Spotlight on: jargon

There are many weird and wonderful aspects to starting a new job, but one of the most annoying, according to a new survey, is the use of jargon.

A survey by finance recruitment firm Nigel Lynn found that two-thirds of new recruits to large organisations found jargon to be the most irksome aspect of their induction. Meetings des­cribed as ‘face time’, irrelevant questions that need to be ‘parked’ and ‘ITTTC’ rather than the desperately old-fashioned ‘I think that’s the case’, are all causes of annoyance and stress.


Steve Carter, managing director of Nigel Lynn, says: “Jargon makes recruits feel isolated. It is like a private club, and to get in you have to learn the dialect.”

Sinead Brennan recently joined BT as an apprentice customer service engineer, and faces technical and management jargon on a daily basis.

“I have learned so many acronyms it’s unbelievable,” she says. “You come across the same jargon over and over, and then you start using it. I tell my mum what I have done during the day, and she doesn’t understand a word.”

Karen O’Reilly, head of HR at National Express, believes some managers use jargon as a bullying tactic. “Jargon can destroy the confidence of a new recruit, and it can be used by people who lack confidence themselves,” she says. “People use obscure acronyms and strange terms to make the person they’re talking to feel stupid.”

Jargon doesn’t do much to enhance your employer brand in the early stages of a new job, either. “It comes across as intimidating and false,” says Carter. “It proliferates when you settle into a company, and then you find yourself using it too.”

Challenge it

So how can HR educate line managers not to speak in business jargon? O’Reilly believes the answer is to challenge it.

“As long as it goes unchallenged, it will flourish,” she says. “I respond to jargon with: ‘I didn’t understand that. What do you mean?'”

Brennan agrees. “As an apprentice, I need to understand everything, so I have to risk looking silly and ask for explanations outright. The danger is in thinking: ‘Oh well, I’ll find out what that means later’, because you may never get a chance.”

One problem is that HR is often the place where the jargon starts. “HR people are very fond of developing terminology, but it’s just a fashion,” says Carter. “Two years ago, everyone apparently needed a ‘paradigm shift’, and now no-one uses the term.”

One organisation has even gone so far as to implement a ‘Junk the Jargon’ policy. Phil Badley, assistant director for business services at Stockport Council, has taken steps to root out jargon from job applications, simplify e-mails and create a culture where if staff don’t understand something, they ask.

If other organisations follow his lead, new recruits may never be told to ‘think outside the box’ again.

Junk the jargon

Stockport Council advises employees to do the following to avoid over-using jargon:

  • Weed jargon out of communications documents and training.

  • If you don’t understand something, ask.

  • Make sure that job applications are jargon-free.

  • Substitute a jargon box for an office swear box instead.

  • Ask new recruits to make a note of jargon as they hear it.

  • Use straightforward language in e-mails.

By Lucy Freeman

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