I’ve been meaning to write this article for ages and it was a post on HR Grapevine that I read this morning that made me write it now – it was a contravention of issue number 2. It’s interesting that three of my 4 HR / employee communications / business irritants are connected with people leaving an organization and I wonder if after all of these years we still feel deeply uncomfortable with people leaving our various tribes – is that the reason why we trip ourselves up with language?
Anyway, here are 4 of my pet peeves :
“…with immediate effect”
This is normally used in the context of “John Smith has left the business with immediate effect” and it’s commonly seen in press releases or news stories about outgoing senior staff and it’s often used internally too, you might find it on your intranet. There’s a good example here when SAP recruitment firm Red Commerce changed their CEO. This link is their own press release, exactly as they wrote it themselves and in here they couldn’t resist the urge to use “with immediate effect” twice – once in paragraph one to say when the new CEO was starting, and again in paragraph 6 to say when the outgoing CEO was leaving.
It seems to be that “with immediate effect” is simply code for “we fired their ass, so there” and I just don’t know why it needs to be said like that, In that Red Commerce release, in the same paragraph they “place on record their gratitude for the outgoing CEO”, so why do they have to stick the knife in with the little snarky code words? What is wrong with just saying “Richard has left us after 10 years and we wish him well”?
Full Disclosure : I know Richard from our time when we were both CEO’s in the same PE portfolio which is how that example ended up on my radar. He never mentioned this so the upset with the wording of that release is entirely mine and not his.
“Sally has been terminated”
This one is just stupid and bad language surely. I read this today mentioned in an HR Grapevine story about an idiot ad-agency CEO who was fired for sending a very poorly judged all-staff email (titilating read if you’re looking for one). The quote, from agency parent company Interpublic was :
“Interpublic Group announced that it has terminated Jim Palmer, the CEO of Campbell Ewald, effectively immediately.”
Well Jim has’t been terminated has he? His “employment” may have been terminated but I’m assuming they haven’t terminated him personally! It’s amazing how often we write the rubbish – reducing humans to the job or position they have rather than accepting that their job is part of the person but not the whole.
Has left “the business”
“James Smith has left the business”
when we could write the warmer, kinder
“James Smith has left us” or even just “James Smith has left”
Again, there’s just something edgy I find with it, something slightly pompous and superior in those extra two words. I think they are used, again, when we’re trying to say something without actually saying it. And however picky you think I’m being I just don’t like it.
“He is worth £2 million” or “She’s worth 50% less than she was worth yesterday”
OK, this is a business one rather than an HR one but I’m slipping it in anyway, it’s another example of when we reduce someone from a full human to an aspect of their life. Almost daily I’ll see things written about people with a public profile in the media that says that the person “is worth” a certain amount and what they mean is “Has money and assets worth” a certain amount. There was a tech stocks sell off last week and the share price of Linked In and many other tech stocks tanked. This provokes news stories saying that tech founders and CEO’s were now “worth less” than they were the day before.
It always jars with me to think that a person is “worth” only the value of the money and assets that they are connected to. It’s wrong and not how I think about people. I don’t think that my “worth” to anyone else is remotely connected to how much cash, stock or other financial assets that I own. I know many people might think I’m splitting hairs or playing with semantics but I don’t think we should reduce the value of people to the amount of traceable, liquid cash or stocks that they happen to have at any point – it doesn’t seem right.
What do you think?
Am I being too sensitive? Is there anything in this? Do you have other examples of business-speak that says one thing whilst meaning another? I’d love to hear it in the comments below.