How buzzwords divide different generations at work

The ever-present nature of corporate jargon is divisive. Here’s how to do away with it.

Corporate jargon — whether you’re putting a pin in something, circling back, or promoting synergy — is generally devoid of any real meaning and should be avoided. But a recent study by Preply found that while Americans find corporate jargon annoying, it has managed to find a way to take hold in social interactions outside of office settings, with buzzwords like FYI used by 81% of respondents at home.

With work talk so prevalent outside the walls of our workplaces, and the knowledge that many of us find it off-putting, we took a deeper dive into the findings of the study to find how American workers really feel about jargon.

The most annoying buzzwords

While many phrases can be categorized as buzzwords, the study found that American workers found some more irritating than others. The top culprit in 2022 was one we’ve all heard hundreds of times since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic — “the new normal”. Forty-two percent of survey respondents claimed this as their most annoying jargon phrase of the year, with the additionally irritating “lean in” at a distant second place at 18%, and the dreaded “hop on a call” in third at 16%.

Let’s unpack some of these and why they annoy the modern employee. The “new normal” is particularly bad because the normal isn’t new anymore! We’ve been doing many of the same things as a workforce including hybrid work and Zoom meetings for nearly three years now — this is just normal.

When you overuse a phrase, you’re bound to wear it out and it’ll start annoying people.

Another related one is the “hop on a call” phrase. This one can be particularly bad due to the well-documented phenomenon of Zoom fatigue and how it can contribute to employee burnout. If it doesn’t need to be said on a Zoom call, just leave it in an email. We’re all busy people, and “hopping on calls” all day doesn’t leave the proper time to get things done. As communicators, we should be optimizing our communication, not hanging on to extraneous methods of it.

Generational gaps

With Gen Z now a part of the workforce, some of their buzzwords are also making the leap into the jargon used at work every day. According to the study, the top jargon word used by younger employees was “vibe”. This was followed closely behind by a few other Gen Z favorites including “lit”, “bet” and “basic”. While these are words and terms often used outside the office, don’t be stunned to see them slip through into workplace settings every so often.

But let’s not demonize Gen Z on their jargon of choice. The study also revealed that older generations like to use sports and military terms in their communication in the office. Think of the old favorite “getting your ducks in a row” — we’re willing to be you’ve heard or used that one before.

Just because one generation’s terminology is different than another’s doesn’t make it wrong — language evolves and shifts over time. But it does stand as another reason that workplace jargon should be avoided. These words create potential confusion between coworkers who should be ultimately striving for the same goals.

Tossing out the buzzwords

With all these buzzy terms and phrases going around, there can be some significant barriers to effective communication. While jargon might serve something of a purpose in shortening terminology, it tends to obfuscate true meaning and confuse others who might not be attuned to the current terminology. As always, keep your messaging clear when you’re interacting with others at your workplace. Say what you mean and say it clearly! If you’re hiding your true meaning behind jargon, you’re also increasing the chance that someone interprets your message the wrong way.

When you’re managing communications for a multigenerational workforce, it’s crucial to use words and phrases that everyone understands. While our language will evolve and shift, by avoiding jargon terms, we can increase the chances that our messaging is received clearly the first time. Plus, it’s pretty clear that most people find it annoying, so would losing the buzzwords really be that big a loss? Hopefully, at the end of the day we as employees can see what a real win-win putting a pin in jargon at work would be. (See what I mean?)

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.


3 Responses to “How buzzwords divide different generations at work”

    Diane says:

    While we’re at it, let’s mention the 4th (or in my book, 1st) most annoying corporate buzzword phrase: “Let’s unpack this.” (Sorry, but you’re guilty of this one, Sean!) If you mean “look at,” “review,” “analyze,” “consider” or something else similar, please just say it. “Unpack” makes zero sense unless you’ve just returned home from a business trip.

    Heather says:

    I find “meet them where they are”so annoying. People have been saying it for years now, and it’s filler for saying something more meaningful and specific.

    Heddwen Newton says:

    Thanks for the article. A small comment, though:

    “While jargon might serve something of a purpose in shortening terminology, it tends to obfuscate true meaning and confuse others who might not be attuned to the current terminology. ”

    I guess this sentence avoids jargon, but I’m not sure if it makes your message clear. “Obfuscate” is a tricky word for many, so is “attuned” and “terminology”. Perhaps we can find a happy medium between jargon and convoluted English? Daily Headlines

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