HR’s role is uniquely complicated: recruiting, screening, interviewing, onboarding, people’s wellbeing, payroll, benefits – and that’s just to name a few. With so much on their plate everyday, it’s easy to see why HR  professionals strive to save time and get more done by using well-known and widely understood catchphrases when communicating with their people.

But in the rapidly changing world of work, HR needs to sometimes make changes to the lingo it uses around the office. Words and phrases that made perfect sense to everyone at a company a couple of years ago can quickly turn into meaningless buzzwords. A report by the AmEx OPEN “Get Business Done” survey found that 88% of people admit to pretending to understand office jargon—even when they really have no idea what it means. Even worse: 47% of these people recycle the jargon they themselves don’t understand either ‘frequently’ or ‘very frequently’.

When HR speaks, everyone can’t help but to listen. So, instead make sure that your new continuing education programs, time off policy changes, and benefits updates are given the attention and credibility they deserve, by kindly considering to chuck the cliches! Once HR does away with the corporate babble, the rest of your team will surely follow. 

  1. Delete “circle back”: This phrase is our generation’s version of “touch base”. The problem with circling back is that it’s often used during a meeting after a team member has just said something off-topic. Asking someone to ‘circle back’ later can come off as impersonal, even dismissive. Also, if the idea is to meet and discuss in order to move a project forward then the image of going around in circles is the wrong way to go.

    Upload ‘Talk’, ‘Chat’, ‘Discuss’: Being specific about what you want to do is a great way to build confidence and trust. If you want to revisit an issue, ‘let’s talk later today’ is much more effective and pleasant  than “circle back.”

  2. Chuck “per my last email”: This is an unsuccessful way of trying to nudge someone ever so gently. The phrase falls flat because the colleague being referred to a previous email can come away feeling that the person sending the email is frustrated by having to respond to a question that’s already been answered. “Per My Last Email” is a passive-aggressive way of telling a team member to pay more attention.

    Hit ‘Repeat’: We’re all human. And, especially in a fast paced work environment, it’s impossible to remember every detail of every email that one receives. Instead of being judgy, simply repeat whatever needs to be repeated and move on.

  3. Retool “all-hands meeting”:  The issue with this popular piece of HR speak is that most of what all-hands meetings cover only affect a small minority of the people at an organization directly. People who are forced to take time from their busy workday may start to feel that the work they’re doing is either going unnoticed or is undervalued.

    Replace with a group email: Your team will greatly appreciate it if a company-wide meeting can be replaced with a mass email that contains the same information. Giving team members the power to decide when to read these periodic updates will show that HR values it’s people’s time enough to let them decide how to manage it. Also, make your HR team available to answer any and all questions about these emails.

  4. Ditch “please advise”: There’s nothing more irritating for your people than coming to work first thing in the morning, logging in and seeing an email with ‘Please Advise’ in the subject line. Why? Because emails often fail to get across what the email sender really means. How urgent is this ‘please advise’ request? How quickly does HR need to receive a reply? Is there even enough time for a cup of coffee? Such vagueness leads to confusion, which can lead to resentment.

    Push the ‘Pushy’ Button: There are times when HR needs a quick answer from a team member. In such cases, it’s a good idea to be specific about your timeline: “Please get back to me by 3:00 pm.” Being this clear will enable the person receiving this message to prioritize their workday in order to hit the deadline you established. For super urgent requests, scrap the email and either call or pay a personal visit to the team member you need an answer from.

Learning to KISS

Your company’s people are smart and savvy. The second they hear a word or phrase that isn’t clear, they’re likely to tune it out. Your HR team can take the lead in reassuring your people that your company places a high priority on being direct and transparent with all team members. One powerful way to get this message across is to simplify the language used around the office. Overly creative terms and slang unique to your company’s culture should be encouraged, as well. It creates a sense of unity and inclusivity. Team leaders and decision-makers should be encouraged by HR to communicate the way they would like to be communicated with, by ditching the office jargon cliches and using more modern lingo that’s also compassionate and open. 

Here’s one old school phrase that’s more relevant than ever: “Keep it simple and sincere.” KISS, 😉


from Stephanie Stevens

Stephanie is Content Marketer at Hibob. She has a background in Clinical Psychology and Crisis Management, and enjoys abstract painting and watching horror films in her spare time. She believes that people can connect with themselves, their peers, and the world around them through creative writing, helping them foster a deeper sense of self and their life goals in the process.