A Layoff by Any Other Name Still Sucks

Last Updated Apr 20, 2009 1:57 PM EDT

If you're a regular reader, you know I'm not a big fan of corporate jargon. But one type of euphemistic speech really gets me angry: Managers trying to come up with a more palatable way of telling people they're fired.

Trust me: Telling someone they've been "offboarded" instead of "laid off" doesn't make it hurt any less. It doesn't put more money into their severance package (if they have one at all).

And it sure as heck doesn't improve the morale of those left behind. If anything, it makes management look less sincere, which results in less employee engagement among the survivors -- not more.

And some of the jargon used is just plain insulting. Last fall, Yi-Wyn Yen wrote a Fortune article ("Laid off? No, you've been 'simplified'") that described how companies used euphemisms to minimize the PR damage of mass firings.

A sampling of the ways companies tried to avoid the L-word:

  • It's a "re-engineering plan" (American Express) or a "cost-improvement plan" (Fidelity)
  • It's to make the company "become more fit" (Yahoo)
  • Staff cuts are part of a "Special Forces philosophy" (Tesla Motors)
  • Hey, it's just "employee simplification" (eBay)
Maybe it helps with the spin for investors, but I'll bet the folks who got axed aren't any happier.

Bob Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule, asked his readers to submit their best euphemisms for layoffs and got about two dozen doozies in return. The worst, in my opinion:

  • Rebalancing the level of human capital
  • Corporate outplacing
Can you say either of those with a straight face? Really?

Please, managers, just ditch the corporate-speak. Take a deep breath, forget the jargon, and tell it like it is. Let your last interaction with your employee at least be an honest one.

And by the way -- if you've heard any really ridiculous euphemisms for getting fired, I'd like to hear them. Share them in the comments section.

(image from Why No Ally?)

  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for AnchorDesk.com and writes regularly for Law.com and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.