Tag: corporate buzzwords

IBM: One buzz phrase = 5,000+ layoffs

TalkLikeTheBoss_1_Buzzword_Layoff

4,701 = the number of words in IBM’s (Q4 2014) latest earnings release.

4 = the number of times the business buzz phrase workforce rebalance was used.

5,000 – 10,000 = the estimated number of workers that will get laid-off by a “workforce rebalance.”

In IBM’s latest earnings release, the business buzz phrase workforce rebalancing was used only four times—or less than a tenth of a percent of all words used in the document. And just like that, thousands have/will be kicked to the curb to search for new employment. Some IBM experts claim that this may be the largest layoff in corporate history but most refute that claim and put the number somewhere between five and 15 thousand layoffs of which are still huge numbers! But if you’re anxious to find out the exact number of layoffs, don’t hold your breath. Like many large corporations, IBM is being cryptic on the actual amount of workers they plan to terminate.

Justified? Probably…but it’s all in the way you do it

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are valid business reasons why any organization would need to reduce their payroll. However, I find it rather disturbing that this life-altering event is only mentioned four times throughout the entire earnings statement. And worse, this huge round of terminations is referenced inconspicuously behind a generic business buzz phrase called “workforce rebalancing.” And these big companies have the nerve to talk about transparency.

Sure, I get it, it’s an earnings report and therefore the primary focus should be about the company’s financials. But aren’t those workers worthy of more than just a mere 0.08% mention? Why couldn’t the executives use sympathetic and appreciative language to refer to the workers who will be impacted by such an unfortunate event? Or just maybe IBM could have been a little more forward and call this ugly thing exactly what it is—layoffs—and not the more tactful business buzz phrase of “workforce rebalancing” to avoid saying the obvious.

Am I alone in here?
Maybe I am alone in my reasoning but frankly I don’t care. I believe these (soon to be) laid-off workers deserve more from an organization that likely meant so much to these workers’ livelihood. Even if IBM used appreciate language to describe these laid-off workers in their earnings report—will that bring back these jobs? I wouldn’t bet on it…but please don’t miss the point.

Like a funeral, where survivors carefully invoke kind words, and perform thoughtful gestures to properly honor the one they lost—IBM could have used their earnings statement to publicly express sincere gratitude towards these unfortunate folks. At the very least, these workers deserve that small token of dignity.

Because for many of these laid-off workers, this tactfully phrased “workforce rebalance” will feel much like a funeral.

-Steele

 

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Three Buzzwords that Offend

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“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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Stop Calling Minorities – “Inner-city” and “Urban”

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Who woke up one morning and decided that it was a good idea to refer to minorities and low-income people as “inner-city” and “urban”?

Not cool.

I suppose I was in third grade when I learned that the word “inner-city” literally referred to the center of a city, and “urban” as an area within or in close proximity to a city.

Nowhere in my adolescent education (and the dictionary for that matter) did I observe the terms “urban” and “inner-city” used in a way to refer to African-American, Hispanic and other minority communities as those terms are often used today.

Sure I get it, well-intentioned people want to avoid using words that can be perceived as offensive to certain cultural and socioeconomic groups because, as many have witnessed recently in the media, news of people caught saying inappropriate words travels at eye-blink speeds (just ask Paula Deen).
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When Opportunity Knocks, You Better Run! – Buzzword Alert

TalkLikeTheBoss_Opportunity

Every now and then I hear a buzzword used in a way that angers me to the point of almost punching a hole in a wall. The buzzword “opportunity” is one of them. Let me explain…

Opportunity used to mean something good. As a child I was taught to seek opportunities and be thankful anytime I ever received one. Dictionary.com defines opportunity as: a good position, chance, or prospect, as for advancement or success.

Well, leave it up to big corporate to change this once promising term to the complete opposite of its original meaning. When I hear the word “opportunity” said in the office, my skin crawls. Why, you ask? These politically correct, best-practice mongers had the gall to alter the word to mean weakness, or to reference an area that needs improvement.

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