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Charlie Duff

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The worst HR jargon – beat the buzzwords


Jargon is an affliction which plagues the business world with a plethora of meaningless cliches and pointless buzzwords, and HR is no exception. We’ve pinpointed a few of the worst offenders: can you remember what jargon floored you when you started working in HR – and what really grates with you now?

The workplace is overwrought with cliches, buzzwords and industry jargon, often leading to a ‘disconnect’ (oops, there we go already) between coworkers (i.e. you have no idea what they’re saying, but you nod and smile anyway). ‘Viral’ terms and phrases like these are among the most overused in the office, according to a recent Accountemps survey.

In a poll of 150 senior US executives from the country’s 1,000 largest companies, executives were asked, "What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?" Their responses included:

  • Leverage: As in, ‘we intend to leverage our investment in IT infrastructure across multiple business units to drive profits’.
  • Reach out: As in, ‘remember to reach out to customers impacted by the change’.
  • It is what it is: As in, ‘the server is down today, and clients are irate. It is what it is’.
  • Viral: As in, ‘our video has gone viral’.
  • Game changer: As in, ‘transitioning from products to solutions was a game changer for our company’.
  • Disconnect: As in, ‘there is a disconnect between what the consumer wants and what the product provides’.
  • Value-add: As in, ‘we have to evaluate the value-add of this activity before we spend more on it’.
  • Circle back: As in, ‘I’m heading out of the office now, but I will circle back with you later’.
  • Socialise: As in, ‘we need to socialize this concept with our key stakeholders’.
  • Interface: As in, ‘My job requires me to interface with all levels of the organisation’.

Accountemps conducted a similar survey in 2004. The following ‘Hall-of-Fame’ buzzwords were cited in both surveys:

  • At the end of the day
  • Synergy
  • Solution
  • Think outside the box
  • On the same page
  • Customer-centric

Some phrases cited in the most recent survey suggest executives are suffering from recession fatigue, including:

  • Recession
  • Depression
  • Economy
  • Do more with less
  • Restructuring
  • Downsizing
  • Gloom and doom
  • Pay freeze
  • Bailout
  • Overworked

"Nearly everyone is guilty of using buzzwords from time to time," Messmer noted. "But professionals are evaluated increasingly on their ability to communicate. Avoiding overused terms, particularly in formal communication, can help workers more effectively convey their message."

This article has appeared on both and The community was quick to add their thoughts on their most irritating jargon.

Sue Acton, Founder/Director of Bubble & Balm said: "Here’s a few ‘gems’ from my corporate days:

  • ‘deep dive’ – as in ‘we need to conduct a deep dive with this data to see what’s really going on’
  • ‘granularity’ – as in ‘we need to get this information to a greater level of granularity’
  • ‘war-game’ – as in ‘lets war-game the different options to assess possible outcomes’
  • ‘world-class’ – as in ‘this product is world-class’
  • ‘educate the customer’ – as in ‘we need to educate the customer on the benefits of this product’.

Hard habit to break though…I found myself talking about ‘dovetailing’ the other day!"

Sue is right, and it’s true –  we all find ourselves falling into the jargon trap, especially when we are surrounded by people who talk ‘corporate-speak’ fluently all day. Other readers on BusinessZone added ‘cascading’ – most often heard in HR circles as ‘cascade that strategy down through the organisation’ and ‘joined-up thinking’, which is probably the buzz-prase most often heard across all sectors.

However we’re sure HR has plenty of others to add. My most hated piece of jargon at the moment is ‘unpack’, as in; ‘Let me unpack that idea for you’. A while ago I sat through a lecture from someone who over-used that phrase and I fail to see how it clarified anything – but it was very annoying.

What about you? Do cliches like ‘get back to the shopfloor’, ‘added value’ or ‘on the same page’ really grate with you? Or is there another phrase bandied about in your organisation which makes you grit your teeth and set your jaw for a very long meeting indeed?

Tell us about your most hated jargon below.

12 Responses

  1. ‘Piece’ and ‘space’
    Maybe word abuse rather than jargon but two phrases that really irk me are ‘HR piece’ (or recruitment-, reward-, etc) and ‘HR space’ – ditto.

    More often than not ‘piece’ is used instead of ‘aspect’ or ‘work-stream’ or some such and ‘space’ is used…for no good reason whatsoever!

    Happy to see that old classic ‘It is what it is’ featuring in the list as well – if I had a pound for every time…

  2. More facetime, less bandwidth

    This is hilarious! My favourites from the last few weeks are; "This could be a complete trainsmash", "Let’s not boil the ocean here!", "Surely this is just boilerplating the exisiting strategy" and "Land the plane already!" (for ‘get to the point’) I actually quite like the last one and have been enjoying using it as often as possible! Let’s put that in the birdcage and see if the budgie bites! The one I hate most and hear every day is, "Moving fowards" instead of….well…nothing! Meaningless.

  3. Buzz buzz buzz……..

    — Caroline Attwood FRSA Compos Mentis HR Systems Consultancy

    I love your descriptions of the terms. How about we set up a dictionary with our interpretations of these dreadful phrases? 

    I actually told a supplier off once for using this sort of terminology in their proposal for a new HRMS.  I was asked if it upset my "personal equilibrium" at which point I showed them the door – which certainly upset theirs!




  4. The counter attack!

     Having started my working life in an advertising environment in the 80’s, I was exposed to this type of jargon at a young age, so imagine my horror at hearing the phrases/cliches/drivel 30 years on in a technical environment! I have now launched a counter attack by telling a few people about my feelings on certain words and how I may not respond. I do not want to ‘touchbase’ but I will get together/have a meeting/catch up; I don’t want a ‘heads-up’ but am happy for you to let me know what is happening/how things are going and I certainly do not want to take something ‘offline’ yet I am happy to discuss the issue at a more relevant time! And as for ‘onboarding’ and ‘offboarding’ graduates on a training programme…NOOOOO

    The downside is that now a few colleagues are aware of my feelings, they take pleasure in my facial expressions during meetings when it is not appropriate to bring my views to the attention of senior managers (I am quite junior). There is talk of ‘buzzword bingo’ returning. Can I be disciplined for shouting ‘HOUSE’ loudly in a meeting…?

    A good rant makes you feel so much better, thank you or this thread



  5. Snorkelling?

    Snorkel in the same think tank? That’s hilarious.

    I was just reminded of another one: close of play. I’m told this is so annoying to some that they’ve banned it’s use from the office.

    I’m pretty certain there are more buzzwords we haven’t thought of yet, we just need to ‘think outside the box’. I’ll ‘circle back with you’ on that once I’ve had some ‘me time’ to do some ‘blue sky gazing’. Perhaps I’ll hold a breakfast briefing with some key stakeholders to discuss the value add of considering a new strategy for this jargon talent pool? On the other hand maybe I should take a rain check.

    Perhaps we should start a campaign for plain English in HR – no nonsense, no jargon, just common sense and business based, proactive, effective HR.




  6. A number of them – all them in ONE meeting

    I couldn’t believe when I had to listed to a whole spade of them during a single meeting which only lasted an hour.  The ones I can still remember:

    "We must hard code this into our diaries"!

    "Let run it up the flagpole and see how it flutters"!

    "We should try and snorkle in the same think tank"!

    Why oh Why?? I really do not understand why this is necesary.  Spent most of my time trying to follow what was being said.  Perhaps a way to get my full attention??


  7. Jargon

    It’s the sporting one’s that crack me up: The Whole Nine Yards, Skin in the Game, Touch Base, Ballpark, Game plan, Close of Play, Shifting the Goalposts……………..admittedly though, they’re frustratingly difficult to avoid saying at times. So engrained in our language that they’re often the easiest way to make a point.

    You can download a page of them from this homepage

    Don’t even get me started on the animals….Herding Cats, Ducks in a Row…


  8. the perfect buzzword
    I’ve got a perfect buzzword, to describe those who use unnecessary buzzwords:


  9. Good stuff!

    Great list of common buzz-words. Although there are a couple that didn’t make the list:

    "Right-sizing": Or, "Crap, we hired too many people for the sake of it and now we need to can them."

    "Topgrading": Or, "Senior management convincing itself it’s firing people for the sake of better performers."

    Those grate me so badly, and not surprisingly, I hear them used all the time. Usually in tandem with the above mentioned buzz-words (‘cascading goals’ is his favorite lately).

  10. Jargon in the workplace

    — Caroline Attwood FRSA Compos Mentis HR Systems Consultancy

    Here are the horrors that I have come across

    • Blue Sky thinking
    • Singing from the same hymn sheet
    • Expose the user to the system.

    Could I ask why it is that if one speaks or writes plain English one is regarded as being a freak?  



  11. Battling On

    I’m far too busy fighting the "war for talent" to worry about unnecessary HR jargon!

  12. HR Jargon – Corporate Prisoners

    I personally love to hate unecessary HR jargon and the phrase that is making me shudder at the moment is ‘corporate prisoners’!  As in: people who would like to resign from the company but for various reasons don’t.

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