Investors in People marks its 15th anniversary with survey calling for managers to cut out unecessary management-speak.

More than half of UK employees (54%) have given management jargon, such as ‘think outside the box’ and ‘the helicopter view’, the ‘thumbs down’, saying it is a problem in their workplace.

According to the poll – conducted by YouGov to mark the 15th anniversary of Investors in People – employees have a low opinion of colleagues who use management jargon. Over a third (39%) of those surveyed think it betrays a lack of confidence and almost one in five (18%) think people who use it are untrustworthy or trying to cover something up.

Commenting on the findings, released on the first day of Investors in People Week today Nicola Clark, at Investors in People UK director, said: “The research gives bosses an invaluable insight into the impact of management jargon on the workplace. Whilst it can be useful shorthand at times, managers need to be more alert to when and how they use it.”

More worryingly, the research suggests that jargon can create a barrier between managers and their teams. Demonstrating the potential ‘desk divide’, over half (55%) of senior managers think jargon is harmless, whilst four in ten (42%) employees think that it creates misunderstanding about roles and responsibilities. Over a third of employees (37%) say it results in mistrust in the workplace and makes people feel inadequate.

Almost two thirds of employees (60%) would prefer no jargon at all at work yet, with over a third (39%) saying that its use is on the rise, the problem looks set to grow if left unchecked.

Clive Longbottom, senior director of analysts firm Quocirca said the lapse into jargon was one every office and meeting was susceptible to. But he urged technologists to be aware of the level of understanding of their audience, and jargon ‘overlap’ particularly.

“There are some that play ‘lingo bingo’ in a meeting and the one who uses the most phrases gets a prize. We all fall into it, with acronyms especially, where you have to make sure the person you’re talking to knows ATM means asynchronous transfer mode and not the hole in the wall,’ he said.

Longbottom added that managers should use jargon sparingly, as well as sensitively. “Jargon has a shelf-life, and phrases like ‘holistic paradigm shift using blue-sky thinking’ will just make you seem a bit sad. And make sure the person you’re talking to is aware of what you mean.”

IIP director Clark said: “Cutting jargon out of everyday communication is clearly a challenge, with almost half (48%) of employees that use jargon admitting to using it without thinking. However, as our research shows, if used inappropriately, jargon can be an obstacle to understanding, which ultimately can impact on an individual’s performance and an organisation’s productivity.

“Bosses need to lead by example, ditch needless jargon, and concentrate on communicating clearly with their employees.”

Other results from the survey include the statistic that employees are more likely to experience jargon in larger organisations than smaller ones, with 65% of people in organisations with 5,000 or more employees say it is used where they work.

The IIP lists some examples of common management jargon:
  • ‘Blue-sky thinking’
  • ‘Singing from the same hymn sheet’
  • ‘Heads up’
  • ‘Think outside the box’
  • ‘The helicopter view’
  • ‘Get our ducks in a row’
  • ‘Joined up thinking’
  • ‘On the runway’
  • ‘Brain dump’

Investors in People have produced a jargon bingo card which you can download.

YouGov interviewed a nationally representative quota sample of over 2,900 working adults throughout UK & Ireland between September 29th-October 3rd 2006.