A field guide to workplace terminology (part 2)

devils-dictionaryA year ago we published the first part of Simon Heath’s acid lexicon of the terms people use to obscure the reality of what it is they actually mean. Part One can still be read here. While much has changed over the past year, we are fortunate that Simon’s corrosive, witty and informed take on corporate bullshit, and especially that applied to the parochial field of workplace design and management remains constant. He’s part of a long tradition of those who apply satire to skewer logorrhea, doublethink and obfuscation, the best example of which remains Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary which is quite remarkably caustic and spares no one. First published in 1881 it maintains much of it power and topicality, for example in its definition of Conservative as:  “a statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Continuous improvement – What you say you’re doing to excuse repeated cock-ups

Diversity – A differing of views over whether to introduce quotas in the board room

Divergent thinking – Coming up with a stupid idea right after someone says “There’s no such thing as a stupid idea”.

Emotional intelligence – The art of never showing your feelings at work

110 percent – The inverse amount of humility required for a job in sales

Honest and open – The type of chat that results in a written note on your employee record

Reach out – Having to finally talk to that person you’ve been studiously avoiding

Telework – They tell ‘im, ‘e works.

Anonymize – Taking your name off of a project update that paints you in a bad light

Ready, aim, fire – Instructions to HR from the CEO for the latest round of employee negotiations

At the end of the day – That which never arrives in modern business

Baked-in – The feeling you get after too many cupcakes at an HR meeting

Balls in the air – Left hanging after a car park conversation

Bandwith – The CEO’s waistline after a long lunch meeting

Baseline – The minimum effort you can put in and still get away with it

Best practice – After repeated failures, what you are told to go away and do

Bleeding edge – What you get from banging your head on the desk in frustration with your co-workers

Boiling the ocean – What the intern feels she’s doing when being made to prepare hot drinks for a board meeting

Seat at the table – Musical chairs for the irrelevant

Buy-in – Bribing a colleague to do the work you can’t be bothered to

CFO – A person in a race to the bottom line

COO – Chief Obfuscation Officer

Chinese wall – What you cite to avoid having to deal with awkward internal comms issues

Town hall – A place CEOs go to in order to patronise the workforce

Cross–training – Sending Bob from Finance to shadow the sales guys so you don’t have to deal with his body odour

De-layering – Having one less filling in your sandwich from Pret

Big Data – A great opportunity to make up for an even greater lack of insight

Deep dive – What you’re told someone is going to do before they fail to set aside enough time

Dialogue – Verbal diarrhoea suffered by focus groups

Disenfranchise – The fate of Blockbuster

Dovetail – What you see right before the bird craps on you

Due Diligence – All the stuff you then ignore

Facetime – Time spent with your head in your hands in frustration after another pointless meeting

Facilitation – A cologne that smells of scented pens

Fishbowl – Customer insight that you ignore until the fish dies and has to be flushed down the toilet

Full optics – Setting up the bar the night before the annual sales conference

Going forward – Direction of travel for a business with regressive management practices

Hacking – The kind of cough you hear in a meeting when someone suggests an employee engagement programme

Human capital – The CFO’s chess set

Ideation – The differentiation of ideas thought up by consultants versus things you could have come up with yourself

Lean in – Getting closer to the toilet bowl to throw up after hearing the CEO speak at the latest Town Hall

Low hanging fruit – Where you feel you’ve been kicked after your latest pay review

Lunch and learn – An opportunity to do the former at the expense of the latter

Prayer meeting – What happens right after you’ve submitted a proposal to the client

Matrix organisation – A business where the CEO tries to subdue dissent by taking the job titles off the org charts

Holocracy – An optical illusion used to disguise your Taylorist leanings

Meritocracy – An organisation in which mediocrity rises to the top

Move the dial – A term used by the kind of person whose only real responsibility in the office is to adjust the AC controls

Offline – Code for something you don’t want to discuss in front of a superior or client

Onboarding – The first three hours in a new job where you sit in a windowless room and read reams of company policy manuals

Organic growth – The unidentifiable thing left in the back of the communal fridge

Peer review – Your co-workers get together to highlight your shortcomings

360 degree review – A performance review that makes your head spin

Presenteeism – The whip round for whoever celebrates their birthday this week

Powerpoint – A presentation by management to demonstrate their superiority

Scope creep – The person who moves the goalposts hallway through a project

Reverse-engineering – Dissecting a failed project in an attempt to find someone to blame

SME – The smartest guy who’s never in the room when the decisions get made

Strategic planning – Navel gazing by people who get paid more than you do


Simon HeathSimon Heath is a freelance illustrator and commentator on workplace and facilities management issues and was formerly Head of Operations, Global Workplace Strategies at CBRE. For more of Simon’s worldly, wise and witty writing on all things work and workplace, visit his blog https://workmusing.wordpress.com.