By Hannah Massen
Turns out that “circling back” to talk about the “company culture” as we navigate this “new normal” really is as annoying as it sounds.
Love it or hate it (and most people hate it), corporate buzzwords are commonplace at most businesses. While most jargon is intended to be useful corporate shorthand or give names to concepts that aren’t easily translated in common speech, work-related meme accounts and corporate parody TikToks have probably shown up on your social media for a reason.
When overused (which, let’s face it, is pretty often), buzzwords can come off as vague, superficial, or just plain annoying.
In fact, the National Society of Leadership & Success, an honor society with chapters at more than 700 universities, surveyed more than 30,000 of its 18- to-30-year-old members to find what phrases are particularly irksome to millennial employees, and the results likely won’t surprise you if you’ve spent any time in corporate America.
“In these unprecedented times…”
Back in 2020 almost every business – from small, family-owned restaurants to multi-million dollar companies – worked this phrase into their pandemic response outline. But two years into the pandemic, people are over the disclaimer and are more eager to hear what you’re doing right now to get back to business as usual.
You probably heard this (or even said it) at least once during your last Zoom meeting. “Circle back” is usually used as a way to gently table a discussion topic, but if you aren’t clear about when you intend to revisit the issue, it sounds more like you’re trying to put a discussion off until…never.
Although saying “I don’t have the bandwidth right now” seems like a nicer alternative than simply saying no, sometimes it’s better to be straightforward about your workload and time constraints. Saying, “I can’t take on a project of this size right now, but I’d like to revisit this at the end of June,” will keep you from sounding like a flake.
“Moving this to the top of your inbox…”
Supposedly friendly followups already come off as passive-aggressive, but people find this not-so-sweet way of saying “put this on the top of your to-do list” particularly egregious because it implies that their inboxes are under control in the first place.
This is a classic case of why nouns shouldn’t be turned into verbs, especially when there’s a perfectly good verb ready to stand in its place: talk. “Dialogue” has more syllables than “talk,” so maybe it sounds more serious and businesslike. But if you haven’t already picked up on this article’s theme, it’s that when it comes to corporate communication, less is usually more.
This phrase started in information technology, used with a very specific meaning: to access hierarchically organized data down through the successively deeper levels. Then it began circulating in the general business realm and now means looking at something in detail. As if “drill down” doesn’t sound jargon-y (and borderline aggressive) enough, people also say “drill up,” “drill around” and “drill in.”
“Synergy” is a good example of why sometimes shortened phrases are necessary, even if they’re overused. This decades-old buzzword basically means that you can have a greater impact by working with another person or business than by going it solo. What a mouthful! Even so, synergy has become the poster child of corporate jargon, leaving some employees wondering if they’re going to lose their jobs if they don’t hit it off with Lois from HR.
And finally, the pièce de résistance: “touch base.” This phrase took first place as the most hated buzzword in a Glassdoor survey, so next time you want to get in touch with someone, skip the “I wanted to touch base with you” opener and cut to the chase.
Hannah Massen is a Content Creator at SmartMarketing Communications, a marketing, creative and public relations agency. As an avid writer with an interest in technology, she creates blogs, newsletters and social-media content to build brands’ digital presences one post at a time.