Fi Jargon

Workplace Jargon Vs. Cybernese: Are These Hidden Languages Barriers to Inclusion?

Published by
04th August 2023

When I first started my job, I wasn’t exactly fluent in workplace jargon. I had just graduated from university and hadn’t ever been in a corporate environment, and straight off the bat there were acronyms being thrown around that I would surreptitiously google so not to seem out of the loop.

For example, a term that we use a lot is ‘BD’ – which I now know stands for business development. However, when I first joined, I’d never heard the phrase, and told myself I would ask what it stood for. I subsequently forgot, and then when the next meeting rolled around a fortnight later it was already too late.

Now, it obviously wasn’t too late – but in my dramatic, Gen Z, new worker brain, the idea of admitting I didn’t know something that I had been pretending to know the whole time was mortifying.

Interestingly, a recent study has found that workplace jargon makes 48% of Gen Z and Millennial workers feel less included in the workplace, and 46% of them cited how this barrier to understanding had led them to make a mistake at work.

This can lead to communication barriers, productivity stunting, and a general lack of cohesion in the workplace. But is the solution as simple as teaching new, younger employees this jargon so that they can begin to speak the language?

The short answer is no – and this is because younger people now have an entire language of their own.

We have dubbed this non-verbal online language as ‘Cybernese’. It is essentially online etiquette, but to those who find themselves in Gen X or above, there are a lot of meanings hidden in things that may seem completely harmless. For example, emojis may seem straight forward, but they are a minefield of double-entendres that could be HR horror stories waiting to happen if someone isn’t well-versed in this digital tongue. The language even spans to things such as Zoom backgrounds or punctuating sentences (if you text a Gen Z worker with full stops at the end of your messages, it’s more than likely they will assume you are being passive aggressive, even though this is just grammar!).

What we’re seeing is two older generations using old-fashioned lingo that younger workers don’t understand, and two younger generations who have got their own online language that more midlife workers have not come to grips with yet. So, what can employers do to create an inclusive environment for all?

The best approach would be to know a bit of both. Workplace jargon is not a necessity, but much like a habit, it would be hard to suddenly quit using it cold turkey. And besides, it has euphemistic tendencies which make communicating tasks easier, so it can be a positive thing. But if you’re going to use it, be considerate to your audience. If you’re talking to an employee who you know is familiar with these terms, then go right ahead. If you’re talking to a new or younger employee, then it might be best to avoid them to mitigate the risk of things getting lost in translation.

When it comes to Cybernese however, it may be worth employers making the extra effort to ensure that all their staff members are up to speed with this emerging language. This is because as remote and hybrid work settles into normalcy, a lot of communication and interaction between colleagues will be happening virtually. Here, it will be important to become well-versed in Cybernese so that communication is clear and appropriate (you can check out our video for how to avoid emoji-geddon for some examples of this).

If employers are able to recognise and understand the best ways of communicating with members of staff, they will be able to give them the clarity that is so important to ensuring productivity and high-quality output. To discuss how we can help you ensure your culture has inclusion at its core, please get in touch with us.

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