The Evolution of Corporate Jargon: From Buzzwords to Inclusive Language

Corporate Jargon is a staple in the world of business. No matter what industry you are in, there’s likely a long list of jargon that gets used daily. At its core, corporate jargon is language used in the workplace to convey other, often more complicated, concepts. It can come in the form of acronyms, phrases, metaphors, and more. 

Though it may seem like something relatively unimportant, corporate jargon and the language that we use play a big role in corporate culture. The words we choose and how we choose to convey our messages can change how people interpret them, how they think about the speaker, how they feel about the culture of the workplace and more. 

In today’s article, we’re going to talk in-depth about corporate jargon. We’ll look at the rise of buzzwords, their relationship with corporate jargon, examples of corporate jargon, the shift towards inclusive language, the impact language has on organizational culture, and strategies for implementing more inclusive language. 

The Rise of Buzzwords

To fully understand what is office jargon, it’s a good idea to start in the past. So let’s first look at the rise of buzzwords in business and how they came about. 

Though you may not realize it, there’s a long history behind the jargon and buzzwords of today. According to Rivier University, buzzwords and jargon in the US originated post-World War Two. Mergers and acquisitions were commonplace in the 50s and 60s, and this changed the way many companies looked, operated, and felt. 

Businesses were bigger, more spread out, diverse, varied, and impersonal. This created a disconnect between workers and their employers, which impacted their bottom lines. As a result, companies started to look for ways to better connect with and motivate their employees to increase productivity and profits. 

This is directly what led to the rise of corporate jargon and buzzwords. Words and phrases such as “paradigm shift,” “streamline,” and “boil the ocean” started to gain popularity in the business world. Language like this obfuscates and makes old ideas seem new. The hope was that this language would help businesses increase productivity and profits, but the reality is a lot more complicated than that. 

confusion at work

Buzzwords often hurt a business, particularly in regards to effective communication. These words and phrases over-complicate things, and they leave room for misinterpretation. For example, say the boss of the sales department indicated they want to “streamline operations.” 

What does that actually mean? Do they want to eliminate positions that are redundant and decrease the size of the department? Do they want to make changes to standard operating procedures that will save time and increase efficiency? It’s not clear what they are truly trying to say and accomplish. 

Because of that, employees may interpret it in various ways. Some employees may hear that as code for impending layoffs, which may make them less motivated at work and consider other jobs. Others may hear that as a boss trying to micromanage their workday to increase efficiency. 

Examples of Corporate Jargon

With the history of buzzwords and corporate jargon covered, let’s look at some examples of corporate jargon phrases and words. It’s worth mentioning that corporate jargon comes in all different shapes and sizes. Not all corporate jargon is bad, and there is corporate jargon that genuinely helps businesses communicate better. However, there is also a lot of jargon that mainly serves to obfuscate and harms the business in the long run.

  • An incredibly common example of corporate jargon is the phrase “circle back.” Circle back just means that something will be put aside for the time being and come back to at a later date. For example, you might circle back to a longer-term goal after addressing a short-term problem that just came up.
  • Another example is “boil the ocean.” This phrase essentially means something incredibly difficult and time-consuming. An employee might have an idea about how to organize client data, and their manager might say “don’t boil the ocean” if the employee’s idea is too time-consuming while also being unnecessary. 
  • Trimming the fat is another common example of jargon. The phrase means to eliminate things that are unneeded, such as parts of a project that go too far, redundant positions, or resources being spent. 

None of these corporate jargon examples are particularly bad on their own. However, the problems with corporate jargon are often most clear when they’re used together. Here is an example, with all the buzzwords/jargon highlighted:

“We do not have the bandwidth for a paradigm shift in marketing right now. Instead, let’s try to trim the fat by streamlining operations. We’ll drill down on that and circle back to a full revitalization of marketing at a later date.”

As noted in the first section, what does that actually mean? What paradigm shift in marketing? How do they plan on trimming the fat and streamlining the department? How do they plan to drill down? What revitalization? 

When used like this, corporate jargon and buzzwords make their meaning less clear and more confusing. Employees don’t know what they mean, and that creates a disconnect. People aren’t on the same page, and have different ideas about what’s happening, and ultimately the business is hurt by the use of jargon. 

The Shift Towards Inclusive Language

With the flaws of corporate jargon and buzzwords becoming more apparent every year, more and more businesses are now shifting their focus toward inclusive language. Unlike jargon, inclusive language aims to avoid biases, build connections, bring people together, and create a more inclusive workplace. 

To make the difference between the two more clear, let’s look at some examples. Something as simple as using chairperson instead of chairman is an example of inclusive language. Instead of gendering a role that could be fulfilled by someone regardless of their gender with chairman, chairperson allows for anyone to fit that title. 

Other examples are less apparent. “Guru” is commonly used to refer to someone who is an expert or highly skilled in a specific field. However, that phrase originates from Buddhism and Hinduism and is a term with a lot of weight. By using it casually, you can minimize its importance in their culture. So instead of saying guru, you might say expert instead.

Though these small changes may seem trivial to some people, they can play a big role in the inclusiveness of a workplace. With the two above examples, women and Buddhists/Hindus would likely feel more comfortable and accepted in their workplace. And as you make larger changes to your language on a workplace-wide scale, those impacts can add up. 

Impact on Organizational Culture

silos in the workplace

Before moving on to strategies, let’s quickly spend a bit more time looking at the impact inclusive language has on organizational culture. 

First, inclusive language can help shape organizational values and norms. Language isn’t just language; it is indicative of our patterns and habits. For example, allowing racist or sexist language in the workplace will likely result in more racism and sexism beyond the words being spoken. On the other hand, encouraging inclusive language can have the opposite effect and help stop and prevent racism and sexism. 

Inclusive language can also help address other problems in the workplace, like breaking down silos. It encourages people to come together, understand others, and work together for a better workplace. In turn, that directly helps break down silos and create a more inclusive workplace. 

The language you choose to use and allow to use creates a standard for the workplace. By using inclusive language, you can set a standard of inclusion that can help bring your workplace together and create a more welcoming, productive workplace. 

Strategies for Implementation

To wrap things up, let’s discuss strategies for implementing inclusive language in the workplace. Working inclusive language into your business may seem difficult, but it’s not as bad as it sounds if you know the right strategies. 

First and foremost, leadership has to be on board. People follow their leaders. If your bosses and managers aren’t using inclusive language, the rest of the employees probably won’t either. Getting leadership buy-in and support is essential. 

You also need to work to incorporate it into every level of the business. For example, changing the language in handouts, instructional materials, meeting notes, etc, can have a big impact. Again, people follow their leaders. If the official language coming from higher up is chairperson instead of chairman, employees will use that language too. By working it into all aspects of your business, it’s much easier for people to start using inclusive language. 

Lastly, training and corporate events can also help encourage the use of inclusive language. For example, an event like the Charity Bike Build can help in numerous ways. It can bring employees together, encouraging them to learn more about each other and be more inclusive. 

Another example is the Do Good Bus. This event can bring a team together to make a difference in the local community. In helping those in need, employees can learn about the importance of working together and ensuring that everyone feels included. 

Implement Inclusive Language with TeamBonding

Buzzwords and corporate jargon emerged in the 50s to help connect better with employees, but their effect is often the opposite. Jargon and buzzwords can make things unclear, resulting in miscommunication and confusion. 

In recent years though, inclusive language has become the focus of corporate language. Instead of trying to obfuscate meaning through jargon, businesses are trying to ensure their language is inclusive. In doing so, businesses are creating workplaces that embrace diversity and inclusion that are ultimately more collaborative and productive.

Start implementing inclusive language and create a more welcoming workplace with TeamBonding. We have over two decades of experience in corporate events, and we have many events that can help bring your team together. So get in touch with us today and start changing your workplace for the better.

Amanda Diertani

Team Contributor

Subscribe

Sign up for tips on crafting the perfect team.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Categories

Podcast

around the world podcast logo

Get ideas, inspiration and best practices from across the globe.

apple podcast logo spotify podcast logo

Be a Guest Blogger

Do you have any useful tips, tricks, guides, or valuable insights about company culture?

Learn more  

Sign up for tips on crafting the perfect team.

Less drama? Greater productivity and job satisfaction? Yes, you really can make an impact, and TeamBonding is here to help. Subscribe to our blog for useful tips, tricks and insights.

More great content based on your likes.

Leveraging Career Advancement Opportunities to Increase Employee Retention

In a highly competitive job market, finding ways to gain and retain skilled employees is key. One of the best ways to increase employee retention is through career advancement/development and team building. High turnover can be incredibly costly for a business. According to Gallup, an employee leaving can cost one-half to two times their yearly salary.

Read More  

11 Awesome Game Show Ideas for Work

Organizing an office game show is a great way to improve team morale and help everyone blow off some steam after a stressful day at work.

Read More  

9 Bring Your Kids to Work Day Activities and Tips

On the fourth Thursday of each April, more than 37 million people participate in Bring Your Child to Work Day, which this year falls on Thursday, April 25th, 2024.  (more…)

Read More  

6 Memorial Day Ideas for Work: Ways to Celebrate & Honor

Memorial Day has a different meaning for everyone. Oftentimes, people use this day as a celebration for the arrival of summer. Cookouts, family reunions, and a 3-day-weekend are all a blast, but they can take away the importance of what the day truly signifies. While you celebrate good food and loved ones, don’t forget to honor and celebrate the brave men and women who have died fighting for our country.

Read More  

Questions? Need a quote?

Complete this form to get started or call 877-472-2725.

Loading Icon

Create Your Free Account

Get exclusive access to new programs from the TeamBonding Lab, save your favorite ideas, and track your upcoming events.
Already have an account? Login

Please wait...

Sign-in

Don't yet have an account?
Create a Free Account

Forgot Your Password? Password Reset