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What office buzzwords are doing to our brains, and to our productivity

Office jargon is taking a deep dive right into American culture.

The terms and speak often used among workers and cubicles was the subject of The Atlantic’s piece last week, titled “The Origins of Office Speak” (note: the article may contain strong language.) Writer Emma Green cycled through multiple buzzwords and office jargon categories in giving the full scope of how people use these words in the workplace.

“Over time, different industries have developed their own tribal vocabularies,” Green wrote. “Some of today’s most popular buzzwords were created by academics who believed that work should satisfy one’s soul; others were coined by consultants who sold the idea that happy workers are effective workers.”

The different categories of words, which not only define the times but also the workplace environment where they were created, range from phrases used for micromanaging to those used when things are being run up the flagpole (bonus points if you caught that buzzword reference).

Office speak, though, may help workers in a great way, Green wrote.

“Everyone makes fun of it, but managers love it, companies depend on it, and regular people willingly absorb it,” Green wrote. “In a workplace that’s fundamentally indifferent to your life and its meaning, office speak can help you figure out how you relate to your work—and how your work defines who you are."

But office buzzwords could be bringing big problems to the workplace, Maddie Crum wrote for The Huffington Post last week. Language is doing more than just defining things in the workplace, it has effects on what people do in the workplace as well.

“It'd be easy to dismiss empty language like value-add and deep dive as silly turns-of-phrase, but they're more detrimental than that,” Crum wrote. “Just as thoughts shape language, the language we use has the power to shape our thoughts and actions.”

Crum also noted that people are less likely to believe in vague terms, at least according to a survey done by New York University.

And, as also noted in The Guardian’s recent piece, office speak is generally centered toward a male audience, putting women in an odd spot for trying to fit in among their colleagues.

“Women make up nearly half the working population, but they remain under-represented at the highest echelons of organisations (sic), even with the support of legislative and managerial interventions,” The Guardian reported.

Because these buzzwords are written from a male perspective, it makes the thoughts and actions in the company have a more masculine feel to them, which isn't fair to women who want to be a part of the workplace community, Raina Brands wrote for The Guardian.

"Language frames thought and action in organisations (sic)," Brands wrote. "Masculine language, like military jargon, frames masculine thought and masculine action. Such cultures are unlikely to foster the kind of inclusivity that women succeed in and indeed, typically seek to be a part of.

Despite these complications, buzzwords and office speak have a monumental importance for workers, Crum noted in her HuffPost article. They give office workers a reason to work harder.

“When we replace a specific task with a vague expression, we grant the task more magnitude than it deserves,” Crum wrote. “If we don't describe an activity plainly, it seems less like an easily achievable goal and more like a cloudy state of existence that fills unknowable amounts of time.”

Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com Twitter: @herbscribner