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Corporate buzzwords: good, bad, or scaring off new hires?

EHL Insights
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Corporate buzzwords, also known as jargon, are an everyday part of the office world. And people use them for many different reasons. These phrases sound trendy, create a sense of belonging, provide an easy way to shift gears in a meeting, or even allow us to make light of a challenging situation. But sometimes corporate buzzwords can also have a negative impact. According to a recent study by preply, some of these words are creating a rift in the workplace.

Apparently, many employees view today’s most popular corporate buzzwords as annoying, and some jargon worsens the generational gaps. The negativity created by these words may be impacting teamwork, morale, and productivity and even deter new hires from joining the team.

So, here’s an overview of some of the most annoying corporate buzzwords, the one’s that some generations just don’t understand, and the one’s that HR should definitely be retiring this year.


The 20 most popular buzzwords

To find out how office workers feel about jargon, preply surveyed over 1,000 American office employees and asked them to rate how they feel about some of the most popular buzzwords. They established a list of the most-used buzzwords, and here are the top buzzwords from 2022:

  1. FYI
  2. At the end of the day
  3. Win-Win
  4. Touch base
  5. Think outside the box
  6. On the same page
  7. Keep me in the loop
  8. Circle back
  9. Work hard, play hard
  10. Unpack
  11. Above and beyond
  12. Hop on a call
  13. Low hanging fruit
  14. Level up
  15. Out of pocket
  16. Ping you
  17. Bandwidth
  18. On my radar
  19. Ducks in a row
  20. Deep dive

Clearly, a few of these words, such as ‘FYI’ are also used pretty frequently in everyday life, without causing any harm or tension. And according to the study, while buzzwords are present in many types of communication, they appear most frequently in email (38%), in person (29%), and in instant messages (24%). Unfortunately, some of these words are really getting on people’s nerves.

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The most annoying corporate buzzwords of 2023

Apparently, there are some phrases that just don’t sit right anymore. And it’s not too hard to see why. Sometimes it’s better to use a simple alternative, such as “follow up” instead of the highly disliked “circle back”, which took the #1 spot on the list of most annoying buzzwords.

Other words that tend to dismiss a topic or put off a discussion were also unpopular, such as “let’s table this”, which took 4th, and “put a pin in it” which took 6th place. Here’s a complete look, at the top ten list of most annoying buzzwords:

  1. Circle back
  2. Work hard, play hard
  3. Boots on the ground
  4. Let's table this
  5. Synergy
  6. Put a pin in it
  7. Get ducks in a row
  8. Low-hanging fruit
  9. Reinvent the wheel
  10. Throw it up and see what sticks


The most modern, yet least-liked buzzwords

The survey also mentions the most recently coined “modern buzzwords” that were popularized in 2022. According to this list, the words that office workers want to get rid of immediately include "new normal," which had 42% of participants saying it was the most maddening phrase of 2022, followed far behind by "lean in" (18%) and "hop on a call" (16%), which both ranked much lower.

For some reason, the phrases "level up" and "out of pocket" were also pretty high on the annoyingness scale. Again, looking at these words we see a trend of words that may bring to mind some negative or resentful feelings. It makes one feel like the corporate machine wants to put a fun spin on some rather boring or annoying activities and ideas. For example, the “new normal” probably reminds us all of COVID lockdowns, which wasn’t very pleasant, and we can all agree that today’s “normal” isn’t that new after several years.


Buzzwords that aren’t so bad

Apparently, some corporate buzzwords don’t seem to bother workers very much at all. “Sync” was voted the least annoying workplace jargon and terms that describe collaboration, such as “loop in” and “take offline”, also appear to be well accepted. Here are the top ten most approved corporate buzzwords:

  1. Sync
  2. Pushback
  3. Pipeline
  4. Level set
  5. Have in back pocket
  6. Window of opportunity
  7. Loop in
  8. Align
  9. Take offline
  10. On the same page

Maybe these words are better liked because they all have more positive connotations that make us think of the good side of work, such as being harmonious, working together, giving justified responses, having a backup plan, a new chance, and a shared vision. Buzzwords that kill the desire to be hired.

Another category of buzzwords that got special attention were those that job applicants don’t want to see on job advertisements and career websites. According to the preply study, “55% [of participants] view buzzwords in job postings negatively. Only 2% say it makes the job appealing, and nobody says jargon makes them very eager to apply.”


The top ten words to avoid in job postings are:

  1. Like a Family
  2. Fast-paced environment
  3. Rockstar
  4. Guru
  5. Ninja
  6. Hustle
  7. Work hard, play hard
  8. Get your foot in the door
  9. Highly motivated
  10. Entrepreneurial spirit
  11. Wear many hats

Here, we can see that people don’t buy into the words that make it look like a company is trying too hard to be cool or friendly. After all, people look for employment to fulfill their professional and financial needs, not to replace their family or friends, or to take on too much responsibility and stress. Being sensitive to employees’ expectations also means understanding that asking them to “hustle”, “wear many hats” and be “highly motivated” may not sound that attractive if they don’t even know the team and company well enough to engage.


Oldschool phrases Gen Z workers don’t understand

A different study by Rethinkly also highlights the trouble with outdated workplace phrases and older generational jargon. According to the study, over 40% of Gen Z workers are not familiar with these common workplace phrases that Millenials, Gen X-ers, and Boomers commonly use:

  • Bite the bullet
  • Back to the salt mines
  • Cut the mustard
  • Flogging a dead horse
  • Throw in the towel
  • Burning the midnight oil
  • Let sleeping dogs lie
  • What's the beef?

This generational language gap creates a social challenge for young workers who may get confused or miss the point of some statements due to misunderstanding. It’s an important point, as the co-founder of Rethinkly, Andrew Jackson, said that most challenges in the workplace stem from poor communication. He also said that communication challenges correlate directly with things such as morale, commitment, and productivity.


The best way to use buzzwords

If we can take something away from these amusing findings, it should be this: choose your phrasing wisely for your audience. Apparently, most people prefer clear, concise communication to fluffy phrases that may undermine the meaning or importance of a discussion. And between different generations, jargon should be used even more sparingly.

Interestingly, the hospitality industry has its share of hospitality jargon that may not be easy to understand for outsiders, but you wouldn’t catch a good hospitality professional using any terms that would exclude or undermine clients or colleagues. Hospitality is the heart of the people-centered service industry, and hospitality education supports the development of both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

The findings of these studies on buzzwords highlight the importance of soft skills in the workplace, and communication is always on the short list of soft skills needed for the future of work. In conclusion, the best way to get along with these touchy catchphrases is to develop excellent communication skills that respect people’s needs and feelings, and when in doubt, leave jargon out.

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