Business Phrases I Hate   1 comment

In spite of how I would prefer to imagine myself, professionally, I am a corporate guy. I try to have a perspective (it’s just a job), but ultimately, I work in “business,” and sit in on meetings with other corporate types.

Like any culture, corporate America has its own language–a series of phrases, axioms, and allusions that are understood. Some are unique to a given company or industry, others are more broadly understood. I confess that I have been known to engage in some corporate speak, but there are a few phrases that should be expunged from our vocabulary.

  • Open the Kimono This is a term generally meant to suggest full disclosure or access. If two companies are partnering, one may “open their kimono” to show their processes, financials, etc.

    While both men and women wear kimonos in Japan, there is something sexist and creepy to my ear about the phrase–revealing one’s naked body. Not sure this is appropriate for business contexts.

  • Drink the Kool-Aid In a business setting, I typically hear this to suggest how much one has bought into a set of ideas, corporate culture, etc. If someone is a proponent off a certain idea, or a real “company man,” they are said to have “drunk the Kool-Aid.” Trying to get skeptical individuals to support an idea is to “get them to drink the Kool-Aid.”

    The speaker, however, may not realize he’s proposing killing someone. This is an allusion to the Jonestown Massacre. Short description: in 1978, at the direction of cult leaders, 918 people died in a mass suicide: Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. In short, the analogy is that someone should have cult-like devotion to whatever the speaker is referring to, to the point of being willing to kill themselves. I don’t think there is anything in business that should merit that.

  • Pretend Time Off This is a play on “Paid Time Off” or “PTO.” PTO is what a lot of corporations do: instead of having so many days of paid vacation and so many sick days, you get a bank of PTO, which covers both–it’s the employee’s responsibility to manage. The advantage is that, if you don’t get sick, there is no shame in just using the time off. The joke, typically given by a senior executive, is that, while he was ostensibly taking a vacation, he was working.

    I have several problems with this. First, it is a less-than-healthy work/life balance. Ignoring what it is doing to the individual, it creates a culture where trying to have work/life balance is frowned upon. Further, I believe that any time spent working needs to be logged, charged, etc., even if the individual does not get paid overtime. This allows companies to understand how much it truly costs to deliver their service or product, and can scale their resources properly. The notion of Pretend Time Off is, in my mind, a sign of a dysfunctional company.

  • Night Job It may generally allude to duties outside of your core responsibilities. If it’s a spot situation (a couple of weeks) or accounted for in resource planning (either ensuring there is adequate coverage to allow the “day job” to be done, having a “night job” take place in a lull, or accepting that some activities just won’t get done), it’s understandable.

    However, I’ve frequently heard people use the term “Night Job” to refer to an ongoing assignment that, because of one’s core responsibilities, require significant off-hour work to get it done. This is anything but work/life balance. Further, if there is no charging for the time, the true cost of a service not being captured.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to either find better phrases to convey the same idea, or, better still, decide if it is an idea that should be conveyed. Corporations are made up of people. The language we use is a key indicator of how we treat them.

Posted 2013-06-24 by Mr. Guilt in rant, Twenty-First Century Life, work

One response to “Business Phrases I Hate

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  1. This is a great list. It’s weird that supposedly “enlightened” software-industry types toss around things as tasteless/inappropriate as “open the kimono” and “drink the Kool-Aid.” Perhaps the enlightenment is overstated…

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