Should we Jargon Bust or let sleeping dogs lie?

By Mandy Chapman


I have heard a lot recently about jargon-busting in HR. There is indeed lots of it out there and we seem to make up new jargon on a regular basis. But does it actually matter what we call things? Many people are focused on eliminating jargon and simplifying our language with great intention but I wonder if this is always the right approach? Some words in business sort of make sense although they may not be perfect when we examine their meaning. At the other end of the spectrum some words have great meaning, but have become so commonplace that their meaning has lost its significance.

Think about the last time you got a “Welcome Pack” from a bank or your car insurance provider – did it make you feel more welcome? It certainly didn’t for me although I’m sure that was the intention when firms started to use them. This is because we have become so used to the term that it doesn’t touch us on an emotional level. I recently read a blog about using the word “Welcome” in the context of new hires. Instead of Induction or Onboarding you’d position your first few weeks as a “welcome” into the business. This made me think of the Insurance Welcome Pack and the fact that this had lost its meaning for me. Of course it also depends on how you “wrap” that message and whether you can live and breathe the “Welcome” concept – we definitely won’t gain the desired effect simply by changing the name.

Onboarding when it first crossed the Atlantic as a term seemed faddy to me but over time it has come to mean something to people. Beware of reinventing the wheel if something works well. In its simplest of definitions Onboarding of course can be used to describe the process of getting onto a boat but people now know what it is in a work context and are increasingly familiar with the term for starting with an organisation. Are we at risk by changing this again or changing back to something we used to use?

Whilst many people talk about getting rid of jargon, very few suggest alternatives to what we currently have. The concept of using Welcome sounds nice, but will the word lose its meaning over time? It’s really all about context and if you’re not careful, introducing new words with new and simpler meanings may not have the desired effect of bringing people into the fold, but may conversely distance them further.

Take a look at your company and check whether you are using alienating words or scary acronyms – not just in HR but across the board. If you are, then change them carefully or if you can’t change them then ensure that you communicate their meaning clearly. So how do you know if terms are truly alienating people? This is tricky but there are tools and techniques that you can adopt to help you to do this. Here are four simple suggestions:

  • Firstly, why not just ask people! Conduct mini-interviews with a theme of “Jargon-Busting-Tuesdays”. Make sure you get a good cross-section of the organisation from the lower levels right to the top and crucially long-term employees as well as new starters. Have a “Jargon Spring Clean”. Make it clear that HR is looking to help rid the organisation of terms that confuse people. You might get more positive and constructive feedback than you think.
  • If you have the technology to support it, why not take a pulse survey? Position this in the same way, ask people to comment on HR or business jargon and suggest words or terms that they’d like to rid the company of. Importantly make sure people suggest alternatives and think about the impact of the change and how this needs to be communicated.
  • Why not stretch this to the customer experience? What terms does your organisation use that may alienate your customers? You could ask your people to comment or widen the survey out to your customer as part of a customer pulse survey. (Will you find anything interesting? Is your customer experience more mature than your employee experience?)
  • Take a look at your policies. Are they written in clear and friendly language? Are they 20 pages long or simple one-pagers? Do they contain any HR jargon or unnecessary acronyms? Do they contain examples and pictures for those in your employee population who prefer to consume information that way and text explanations for those who prefer the written word?

Whatever you decide to do, don’t make hasty decisions on getting rid of a term that may have settled nicely with your employees. Also don’t introduce new terminology, even if its simpler, without really looking at the impact it will have on people. You can use similar assessment techniques in 1, 2 and 3 above to check the opinions of your employees before making a change.

Good luck with your jargon-busting missions. I’d love to hear about your progress so feel free to use the contact fields below or email me directly at



2 responses to “Should we Jargon Bust or let sleeping dogs lie?”

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