Layoff euphemisms

November 9, 2009
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Border’s announcement today that it will close 200 Waldenbooks locations, including the one in Greenwood Park Mall, amounted to yet another layoff notice as the economy continues to sputter.

Approximately 1,500 positions, mostly part-time, will be affected by the “right-sizing,” Borders warned.

Borders actually used the “L” word, “layoff,” in the release, so it was more honest than some. At least “smartsized,” “streamlined,” “offboarded” and some of the other euphemisms were absent.

Why do so many corporations beat around the bush? Butler University professor Ed Kanis thinks corporations are inherently uncomfortable with direct language.

Kanis, who headed communications for Louisville-based Kindred Healthcare as it went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization several years ago, says human resources departments in particular are euphemism factories.

“You’re always trying to deliver messages in the most sensitive way possible,” he says. But, “Professionals get it. It’s somewhat of a cop-out not to be direct.”

Euphemisms aren’t going away, Kanis says. If for no other reason, “Spanglish” words understood to both English and Spanish speakers will emerge. “Every year the wordsmiths among us come up with new language.”

How do you feel about layoff euphemisms? Any favorites?

  • For me, "The company was going in a different direction", whatever that means. Does not matter, I got a much better job while my former employer is now using the "L" word as they eliminate more of my former coworkers.

    They really need to ditch the warm and fuzzy feel good words and be blunt about it. You were either laid off or fired. Not all of these euphemisms that do not fool anyone.
  • Sensitivity?
    I wasn't "laid off". My "position was eliminated".
  • Excuse
    "In an effort for the company to achieve profitability this quarter, we had to X, Y, and Z."
  • Thinking Outside of the Box
    This was the explanation that I received: Our company was contemplating a way to maximize profibility in the 3rd quarter. In order to strike while the iron is hot, we had to think outside the box and come up with fresh ideas and therefore we are going a different direction with your position.
  • Never say "you're fired"
    My old company used to say, "we are encouraging you to be successful elsewhere". Love it.
  • Sensitivity? p2
    I was in the same situation as Cathy to a tee, but found out 6 months later, they are rehiring for the same position in which I was let go for. Lets face it, It was a short term Layoff for the position in which later could bring the position back without bringing the employee back. End Result, I went back to school and getting a cert and now at a job which pays much better than what they would have offered if they would come back and rehire me.

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  1. By Mr. Lee's own admission, he basically ran pro-bono ads on the billboard. Paying advertisers didn't want ads on a controversial, ugly billboard that turned off customers. At least one of Mr. Lee's free advertisers dropped out early because they found that Mr. Lee's advertising was having negative impact. So Mr. Lee is disingenous to say the city now owes him for lost revenue. Mr. Lee quickly realized his monstrosity had a dim future and is trying to get the city to bail him out. And that's why the billboard came down so quickly.

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  3. Yes it does have an ethics commission which enforce the law which prohibits 12 specific items. google it

  4. Thanks for reading and replying. If you want to see the differentiation for research, speaking and consulting, check out the spreadsheet I linked to at the bottom of the post; it is broken out exactly that way. I can only include so much detail in a blog post before it becomes something other than a blog post.

  5. 1. There is no allegation of corruption, Marty, to imply otherwise if false. 2. Is the "State Rule" a law? I suspect not. 3. Is Mr. Woodruff obligated via an employment agreement (contractual obligation) to not work with the engineering firm? 4. In many states a right to earn a living will trump non-competes and other contractual obligations, does Mr. Woodruff's personal right to earn a living trump any contractual obligations that might or might not be out there. 5. Lawyers in state government routinely go work for law firms they were formally working with in their regulatory actions. You can see a steady stream to firms like B&D from state government. It would be interesting for IBJ to do a review of current lawyers and find out how their past decisions affected the law firms clients. Since there is a buffer between regulated company and the regulator working for a law firm technically is not in violation of ethics but you have to wonder if decisions were made in favor of certain firms and quid pro quo jobs resulted. Start with the DOI in this review. Very interesting.