Study finds lack of leverage on business jargon


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A global services solutions firm has touched base with Personnel Today with an update on the use of business jargon in the UK, clearly hoping it will gain traction in the C-suite, perhaps leading to actionable behaviours.

JS3 Global’s survey revealed that a lack of understanding of jargon was fairly baked-in in Yorkshire and Humber with only 45% of respondents able to grasp the meaning of various buzzwords. Whether this finding was linked with the preference for plain-speaking commonly associated with that region was not explored by the study.

East Midlands performed the best of any region, workers there identifying the meanings of 63% of the jargon correctly, picking off more than just the low-hanging fruit.

Overall, workers were able to explain just 55% of jargon correctly when quizzed, with those aged 39-55 being the best at getting their ducks in a row and grasping the meaning of various words and phrases.

The ERP solutions company discovered, along the way, the pleasing news that at least some people actually knew what ERP meant (enterprise resource planning).

More than half of 18-24 year olds could explain what ERP was, more than any other age group, but younger people also had least understanding of jargon, preferring perhaps to think inside the box. They did, however, do the best when it came to technical questions relating to graphic design and online tools.

Drilling down deeper, the study revealed that a slightly older group, 25 to 39 year olds, understood marketing terminology the best.

JS3 Global also queried online search terms relating to jargon, as in how many times phrases such as “what does ‘robust’ mean?” had been used. It examined 200 well used words and phrases and found that the five least understood jargon words were:

  • Leverage
  • Due diligence
  • Robust
  • Synergy
  • Ideation

JS3 Global director Nick Devine reached out to say that the jargon ecosystem was neither as well understood, nor used as much as in pre-Covid times. This, he put down to “Generation Z’s entry into the workplace, and an increase in remote home working”.

The survey didn’t include “Generation Z” among its search terms.

Devine, not a jargon evangelist, added: “Given the current business landscape, it’s no coincidence that jargon is disappearing from the workplace. As an increasing number of roles are filled with young, Gen Z applicants, formal workplace practices and customs are being brought into question – as firms in every sector look to do away with out-dated business models in order to attract young, creative talent.

“This effect has, without question, been bolstered by a huge rise in the number of businesses offering flexible, remote working. As customary business environments switch from the boardroom to the bedroom and home office, the need for corporate lexicon is diminishing, with businesses instead focusing on encouraging collaboration, transparency and sincerity among their teams.”

He warned, however, that the demise of “cringe-inducing” terms such as “touch base”, raised questions about how well young professionals understand common terms which may be valuable to their long-term career progression.

About 1,000 UK workers were surveyed by JS3, so Personnel Today decided the study just about passed the smell test.

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