Three Buzzwords that Offend

TalkLikeTheBoss_words_that_hurt

“John is apart of the rank-and-file so his bonus potential is limited. But you don’t have to worry about all of that Steele…you’re one of us—a titled executive.”

That’s what my boss told me a few days ago. And while I should be blushing from his compliment, I somehow felt slimy.

Although he gave me kudos for being one of the anointed ones, the fact that he referred to John as someone that was expendable did not sit well with me. And worse, I instantly became aware of a practice that somehow eluded me until this moment. At that very moment, it suddenly occurred to me that before I started this role—my most senior role to-date—leaders referred to me with derogatory buzzwords like “rank-and-file” when I was not present. Wait, what?

Who you calling “rank-and-file”?
Newsflash for those who’ve outgrown their breeches–that person that brings you your mail each day is someone’s mother, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s friend and possibly someone’s inspiration. And she has a name…try learning it sometime.

That faithful worker that churns out those reports to your liking, day-in and day-out, is more than just a peon. That person has dreams and goals.

Here are three popular business buzzwords that offend:

Headcount
A long time ago within a leadership meeting that I shouldn’t have been in based on my lack of seniority but somehow got invited to; I heard the business buzzword headcount being used frequently. It was not long before I realized that the buzzword “headcount” referred to workers, and furthermore the phrase that I kept hearing in this meeting, “headcount reduction” was code for layoffs. “But how did such a nebulous term–headcount, come about?” was the first question that came to mind. I mean, wouldn’t it be easier to use the more universal term employee or worker? And just like that the answer came screaming to me —they use headcount to generalize, desensitize and ultimately dehumanize people. ‘But why would corporate executives want to do that?’ I asked myself. To take the sting out of the decisions they make that have a significant impact on someone’s life—like layoffs. And what’s really disturbing is that buzzword “headcount” is institutionalized within the corporate structure – particularly within the human resource department of an organization.

If I had a most hated buzzword list, Headcount would easily be somewhere near the top. It’s no secret that this buzzword was created for the sole purpose of replacing humane words like workers, people, or better yet—actual names like Joe, Kathy and Sophia. How much more difficult is it to say, “we’re going to send 43 workers home tomorrow without a job” versus “we’re reducing headcount by 23% within the next three weeks”? Clearly the first statement is much more difficult because it immediately evokes the emotion and imagery associated with people losing the means to care for their family and themselves financially.

Rank-and-file
With its roots buried in a military bunker somewhere, the buzzword rank-and-file—a term used to refer to lower ranking personnel, likely arrived in the corporate setting from a patriotic veteran that got promoted up the corporate ranks. Or maybe some bonehead that watched one too many episodes of MASH.  It doesn’t matter how rank-and-file got introduced into our professional lives, we need to stop demeaning people with it.

Temp
Short for temporary, temp is another derogatory business buzzword that needs to cease to exist. On the surface, this buzzword does not seem to be offensive in anyway. I mean, the worker in reference may indeed be a temporary worker whose employment is defined by a finite end date. However, what I’ve noticed more often than not, is that permanent employees do not even take the time to learn the temporary worker’s name. They simply, and rudely, refer to them as “one of the temps.”

I have a personal experience with this offensive buzzword. In the midst of the Great Recession, My wife and I began our professional lives. And like millions, my wife found it very difficult to find permanent work in her field so she often found temporary employment opportunities. And then one day she called me on the brink of shedding tears because she overheard a worker refer to her as a temp—well after she had been there for weeks, long enough for that person to know her name. Not to mention that she completed multiple assignments for this particular person (literally handed them the requested assignment). I totally understood the source of her frustration and sadness because this person interacted with her on almost a daily basis. But of course, this jerk didn’t know she was in earshot of his insult. She has a name and he should have taken the decency to learn it.

We ARE human after all
Although headcount, rank-and-file, and temp are very commonly used business buzzwords—there are a lot more–paper-pusher, underlings, peons. Nevertheless, the moral of the story is just that—morality, decency and simple humanity. To say it plainly, we need to put an end to terms that are inhumane, offensive and demoralizing. There is no excuse for it. For humanity sake, lets stop cruel language in its tracks. We are all a member of one community—the human race. Lets start behaving and treating everyone with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

For humanity sake…

- Steele

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6 comments on “Three Buzzwords that Offend

  1. Kavitha says:

    i too have heard people call temporary workers “temps” in a negative way. Many of these contractors make more money than all of us.

    • Steele A. Champion says:

      I found this to be true too Kavitha, the temporary workers (often called contractors) I have come in contact with bring in a lot money. Thanks for visiting and continue to check us out for new material.

  2. Solomon Mckensie says:

    Oh how I hate headcount. Makes us out to be robots instead of people.

  3. Katharine says:

    Interesting read. I can definitely find agreement with all of these, but I do have a question for you on the headcount piece. I agree the use of this word it is to partially remove emotion from layoffs, but as an end reader, I had actually always appreciated that tactic, it helped me switch my brain from emotional to rational if only for a moment to understand the business decision. Understanding the power of words, how then would you recommend companies position this? Simply, “We need to reduce our number of employees?”

    Thanks again for the interesting read, I use the site as a resource and virtual accountability partner.

    • Steele A. Champion says:

      Katharine, thanks for your feedback. I totally understand how it can be beneficial to remove emotions from the business decision process. I would prefer if companies simply said exactly what it is similar to your suggestion, “we need to reduce our numbers of employees.” I think that’s in-line with where things need to go. Also, I’m glad to know that you use this site as a resource. – Steele

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