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Spare us the jargon!


It’s official – according to Investors in People (IiP) 54 per cent of UK employees say that management jargon such as ‘think outside the box’ and ‘low hanging fruit’ is a problem in their workplace.

According to the poll – conducted by YouGov to mark the 15th anniversary of IiP – employees have a low opinion of colleagues who use management jargon.

Practitioners might be shocked to find that 39 per cent of those surveyed think it betrays a lack of confidence and 18 per cent think people who use it are untrustworthy or trying to cover something up.

More worryingly, the research suggests that jargon can create a barrier between managers and their teams.

Demonstrating the potential ‘desk divide’, 55 per cent of senior managers think jargon is harmless, while 42 per cent of employees think that it creates misunderstanding about roles and responsibilities.

And 37 per cent of employees say it results in mistrust in the workplace and makes people feel inadequate.

According to the survey, those working for larger companies are both most likely to experience jargon and to feel it’s on the rise.

Nicola Clark, director at IiP (UK), said: “The research gives bosses an invaluable insight into the impact of management jargon on the workplace.

“While it can be a useful shorthand at times, managers need to be more alert to when and how they use it.

“Cutting jargon out of everyday communication is clearly a challenge, with 48 per cent of employees who use jargon admitting to using it without thinking.

“However, as our research shows, if used inappropriately, jargon can be an obstacle to understanding, which ultimately can impact on an individual’s performance and an organisation’s productivity.

“Bosses need to lead by example, ditch needless jargon, and concentrate on communicating clearly with their employees.”

Suzanne Peck, chairman of Communicators in Business (CiB) agrees. “Business jargon is a good disguise for a bad message,” she said.

“Jargon is deliberately vague and the danger is that if it is overused, it becomes a habit and sends the signal that ‘this is an exclusive club and if you don’t understand the discussion, you can’t play’.”

CiB lays the blame largely at the door of business consultants and the US. “The first time you hear some of these words, you do think they are quite clever, but they soon become an excuse for lazy communications,” she added.

Most employees – 60 per cent – would prefer no jargon at all at work, yet, with 39 per cent saying that its use is on the rise, the problem looks set to grow if left unchecked.

So, what can you do? CiB has come up with five top tips for clear – and jargon-free – communications:

  • Be clear about your message and what you want people to do as a result

  • Jargon and corporate speak smack of insincerity – explain any technical terms or spell out acronyms if you have to use them

  • Tailor your messages to the audience

  • Keep it short and simple

  • Don’t overload the recipient with information – offer links for further information if required.
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