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Management Jargon Baffles Employees

Investors in People urges managers to ditch needless management-speak

November 6 2006 - A survey for Investors in People finds that 54% of employees in the UK regard management jargon as a source of communication problems.

Examples of irritating terms include:

  • 'Blue-sky thinking'
  • 'Singing from the same hymn sheet'
  • 'Heads up'
  • 'Think outside the box'
  • 'The helicopter view'
  • 'Get our ducks in a row'
  • 'Joined up thinking'
  • 'On the runway'
  • 'Brain dump'

While the survey suggests that jargon can create a barrier between managers and workers, more than half (55%) of senior managers believe that jargon is harmless. However, 42% of employees say that it creates misunderstanding about roles and responsibilities and 37% think that that it results in mistrust in the workplace and makes people feel inadequate.

The poll of 2,900 working adults in the UK was conducted by YouGov to mark the 15th anniversary of Investors in People. 60% of respondents said that they would prefer no jargon at all at work but 39% thought that its use is on the rise and the same percentage think that it shows a lack of confidence. Almost one in five (18%) think people who use jargon are untrustworthy and may be trying to cover something up.

Nicola Clark, Director at Investors in People (UK) said:

"The research gives bosses an invaluable insight into the impact of management jargon on the workplace. Whilst it can be a useful shorthand at times, managers need to be more alert to when and how they use it. Cutting jargon out of everyday communication is clearly a challenge, with almost half (48%) of employees that use jargon admitting to using it without thinking. However, as our research shows, if used inappropriately, jargon can be an obstacle to understanding, which ultimately can impact on an individual's performance and an organisation's productivity."

"Bosses need to lead by example, ditch needless jargon, and concentrate on communicating clearly with their employees."

Other significant results include:

  • Jargon is more common in larger organizations than smaller ones. Only 19% of employees in small organizations (2-49 employees) say that jargon is used at their workplace, compared with almost two-thirds (65%) of those in organizations with 5,000 or more employees.
  • 52% of people in organizations with 1,000+ employees feel that the use of jargon is increasing. This compares with 24% in small organisations (2-49 employees).
  • Use of management jargon varies between sectors with 56% of employees in local government saying that it is used in their workplaces, compared to 27% in retail and 35% in construction.

Nigel Lynn, a finance recruitment firm, carried out its own survey last year found that new recruits had difficulties in coming to terms with jargon in large organizations.

"We seem to have left day-to-day English behind for a whole new language", said one of the 78 respondents. "We're not people anymore - or even employees - we're 'human capital' - and apparently our employers want to have 'facetime'with us. It's like something out of an Orwell novel!"

In a situation where everyone seems to understand the jargon, those who don't are often reluctant to admit that they are completely in the dark. "I asked my boss a question and she said that she didn't have the bandwith to deal with it at the moment" said one new recruit. "I still have absolutely no idea what she meant!"

Newcomers often do not know how to respond appropriately. One respondent gave an example:

"When my manager told me that or new accounting system was going to be 'big banged' 'in quarter three (meaning launched) I burst out laughing - I thought he was joking - unfortunately he wasn't!

There was a general cynicism about the widespread use of buzz words and jargon. "In my view, this sort of terminology is just a mask - a cover up", one respondent said. "If no-one really understands what you are saying, then you can't be criticised for it." Another said: "for those of you who remember the A Team, it was Mr T who said 'aint got no time for jibber jabber'"

Steve Carter, managing Director of Nigel Lynn said:

"The vocabulary of the business school and management guru has been creeping into most large businesses for some time. There is a place for specialised language but when it gets in the way of communicating ideas or information, then it constrains, it limits and it fails."

Investors in People have produced a jargon bingo card which can be downloaded at www.investorsinpeople.co.uk.




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