Monday, 27 February 2012

Efficiencies Or Job Cuts? The Relentless March of the Euphemism

I have just taken voluntary redundancy – oh, sorry, don’t I mean ‘voluntary disengagement’? That’s what it says on my letter of confirmation, but I’m quite sure it’s ‘redundancy’ – of the voluntary kind, in that I chose it rather than the other way around.
The reason for my eventual decision is long, convoluted and familiar, I am sure, to lots of you reading this. But, suffice it to say, it all began with a root, branch and - indeed, twig - reconstruction of the newly named ‘Professional Services’ section of the organisation for which I used to work. (For ‘Professional Services’ read ‘administration’).

When I say ‘reconstruction’, to those of us working through it, the word ‘deconstruction’ would have seemed more apt. Not one department was left untouched. Indeed, people were leaving in droves - the victims of what was termed ‘efficiencies’. Imagine losing your job and being told it was an ‘efficiency’ measure. The slur is inescapable. Talented people took the (admittedly generous) voluntary redundancy (sorry, ‘disengagement’) packages on offer and jumped ship. Skills were lost. Suddenly everyone had two people’s jobs to do. Some, like me, had even more than that.

Inevitably, mistakes were made, innocently by people who had been thrust into the deep end without a life raft or a safety net and had received, at best, minimal training in their new additional roles at a time when all the processes and procedures were also being radically overhauled. 

Everyone was told they would have to work harder for less money (how true that was). As usual, decisions had been made in ivory towers without recourse to anyone on the proverbial ‘shopfloor’ who actually knew what was involved and what the result of such swingeing cuts would be.

Inefficiency in the name of efficiency.

OK, euphemisms have been with us forever. How about ‘bathroom tissue’ (toilet paper), ‘mixologist’ (bartender), ‘sanitation engineer’ (janitor/caretaker),  ‘collateral damage’  or ‘casualities’ (for people killed in war) or the use of ‘challenged’ following words such as ‘mentally’, ‘intellectually’ , ‘vertically’ and so forth. ‘Preowned’ (secondhand). Women are said to be 'in an interesting condition’, 'with a bun in the oven', 'up the duff' or any one of a multitude of things in order to avoid the word 'pregnant'. ‘Surreptitious entry’ is what a burglar makes when he/she breaks into your home. And you are never drunk, just a little ‘tired and emotional’.

Then of course we have the infamous ‘negative patient care outcome’ (the patient died).
Euphemisms are supposed to soften the blow of harsher words and, in today’s politically correct (there’s another one!) environment, help us to avoid using vocabulary which would/could give offence. Some of them – particularly relating to sex, bodily functions and even death – are amusing or downright funny. As we go through life, it is hard to avoid using them at some point or another.
But am I the only one who finds the increasing use of euphemisms which strive to cast a veil over harsh policies in politics and the workplace patronising and insulting? I don’t think so.

It was my choice to opt for redundancy. Others are not so fortunate. Don’t insult them by talking about ‘efficiencies’ and then proceed to axe their jobs. Tell it like it is. Use plain English. We’re not as stupid as some people would like us to be!

Right, I’ll get ‘down off my soap box’ now and ‘welcome your input’. What are your favourite – or least favourite – euphemisms?


  1. Good luck Cat! Now you can concentrate on writing. I remember when HR was Personnel which sounds much better than human resources anyway (daft name).

  2. I recently got a flyer from my chilren's school referring to them as "your students." I thought, they're not MY students, they're YOUR students. They're MY children! (When did "children" become a politically incorrect word?)

    Annie ;-)

  3. Love that reply Annie! I think "outsourced the job" as opposed to laid off the the employee is my unfavorite.

  4. Great comments, Susan, Annie and Sheila, thank you. Yes, Susan, I agree with you, I would much rather be a 'person' than a 'human resource'. Annie, I know that teaching your children starts at home, but that's a step too far! As for 'outsourced the job', I agree, Sheila. And it often means they have enlisted cheap labour too!

  5. I work in local government and the euphemisms and buzz words are rife. I particularly HATE being asked to 'unpack' a situation.