A cynic’s field guide to workplace terminology, part three 0

consultA New Year and a new chance for some people to heap more fresh corporate bullshit onto the already steaming pile. No matter how often writers like the ever excellent Lucy Kellaway mock and deride the propensity of people in organisations to apply cliches and nonsense in lieu of thought and imagination, we have to face an annual fresh tide of drivel and lazy thinking. So predictable is this yearly onslaught, that it appears to now be a subject for trendspotters, as a recent feature in The Telegraph highlighted. Of course, this is just general corporate speak and does not even begin to scratch the surface of what we have to endure in the more parochial world of workplace design and management. Which is why I have produced the latest update to my continually expanding lexicon of regrettable workplace terminology.  You can read parts one and two here and here.

Accountability – What dimwit recruiters in the Financial Services sector go looking for.

Action – Doing things for someone whose ego is bigger than their testicles.

Agility – Getting out of the office unnoticed at 3:30pm on a Friday.

Align – The thing that gets drawn under HR efforts to get all cosy and strategic with “the business”.

Amplify – Shouting down efforts to discuss gender pay equality at the AGM.

Augmented reality – Steve from the Sales team has been inflating the pipeline again.

Authenticity – When the boss finally gets round to having that open and honest chat with Bob from Accounts.

Autonomy – The half hour enjoyed by the rest of the department when the manager slips away early on a Friday afternoon.

Bae – Your rather shifty BFF who works in the defence, security and aerospace industry.

Blended learning – Googling the answers to your company’s e-learning questionnaire whilst completing it.

BYOD – An unofficially sanctioned initiative to avoid employing an IT helpdesk.

Co-creation – An offer to put in all of the effort for none of the credit.

Collaboration – Delegation, but with nicer biscuits.

Community – Enough people to get a really good group rant going about the place you work at.

Competitive advantage – A permanent formatting feature of any pitch document.

Content – Something comforting to read beside the pool whilst happily on holiday with your bonus.

Curation – A very small trumpet, earnestly blown.

Disruption – A tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Ecosystem – The cultured slime that grows in the petri dish of workplaces.

Elevator pitch – The heightened tone of voice adopted by someone asking for a raise.

Empowerment – The feeling you get when you finally find somewhere to recharge your various devices whilst enjoying a bout of flexible working.

Equality – The standard of WiFi connectivity you get in your workplace versus that which you were led to expect.

Ethics – A county to the east of London.

Fail forward – AKA Passing the buck

Game changers – The workplace equivalent of your stroppy teenage daughter sweeping the Monopoly set off the dining room table in a fit of pique because she came second in a beauty contest after drawing a card from the Community Chest.

Gamification – The inter-office Fantasy Football League.

Happiness – What wellbeing consultants have in lieu of mortgage payments.

Helicopter view – Staying well out of the way as a project fails in spectacular fashion.

Human-centred – A confection commonly filled by breaking butterflies on wheels.

Impactful – Facepalming done by employees when they discover what the latest workplace change programme is supposed to achieve.

Innovation – Spending all that time you saved going #noemail managing all those productivity apps you’ve downloaded.

Internet of things – How the CEO views your company’s internal social network.

Interoperability – The futile hope that, just for once, you can have a project on which HR and IT don’t end up actively working against each other.

-ize – As in “Uberize”. The uncontrollable desire of the marketing department to jump on any passing bandwagon.

Ladder up – On being promoted, to pull the ladder up after you so nobody else can share in the glory.

Leverage – What Roy from IT has over you after he stumbled on those candid photos of your girlfriend on your laptop.

Machine learning – The relentlessness of the corporate L&D function.

Mastery – The art of being just good enough to keep getting away with it.

Millenials – To recruitment consultants, everybody (i.e. they think we were all born yesterday).

Mindfulness – What we can all now say we are practising when someone catches us staring wistfully out of the window on a dreary, damp Thursday afternoon.

Mobility – Moving desks to avoid the office bore.

Neuroscience – Giving an air of respectability to crackpot theories about what motivates us at work.

On my radar – “…so I can avoid it.”

Peel the onion – Sobbing quietly to yourself after finding you’ve been passed over for promotion.

Ping me – Your boss asks you to warm up his leftover curry in the communal microwave.

Pivot – A corporate u-turn (e.g. now we want you all to come back and work in the office because it’ll improve collaboration and innovation).

Purpose – The steely glint in Dan Pink’s eye as he bounds on stage to tell us the surprising truth about what motivates us.

Rocket science – The fireworks that ensue if any really does challenge the status quo.

Scalability – Corporate ladder-climbing.

SEO – Pay-per-view relevance irrespective of usefulness.

Serendipity – What Gavin from Facilities is hoping he’ll get with Stacey from Sales Support when he spends every afternoon hovering by the water cooler.

Sharing economy – Team pizzas instead of team pay rises.

Sustainability – How much longer you can stand to work for people who don’t value your contribution.

Synergy – The energy expended lying to your spouse about why you’re late back from work. Again.

Tipping point – When your spouse finds out why you’re really late back from work. Again.

Transparency – The apparent consistency of those at the top of public bodies at a time of regional crisis.

Trust – What they give you right before telling you something that compromises your ethics.

Un- – A prefix used to put a cigarette paper between what you’re doing and the flabby, out-of-date, irrelevant thing you did yesterday.

Unicorns – Mythed opportunities.

Values – Bulk purchased laminate wall decals.


Simon 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.