What is Corporate Talk? Latest TikTok trend, explained

The latest HR trend to grip TikTok is all about teaching Gen Zers how to make their voices heard in the modern workplace.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Gen Zers are turning to so-called Corporate Talk experts on TikTok for help translating their words into professional-sounding speech that’s ‘suitable’ for managing team conflict.

The trend is a reaction to the dramatic shift in workplace communication that has taken place post-COVID. In today's era of remote working, many of us have switched to messaging platforms such as Slack over email, swapping out ‘yours sincerely' sign offs for emojis and office slang.

The result is a younger generation which has been left searching for the right words to set boundaries or address conflict at work in a polite and professional manner.

What is Corporate Talk?

As soon as a person comes of working age, they are typically introduced to a nightmarish list of business lingo starting with ‘it’s lovely to e-meet you’ and ‘circling back round’ to ‘close of play’.

‘Corporate Talk’ is the new term being used to describe this dictionary of idioms, phrases, and abbreviations that can bemuse and delight employees in equal measure.

While some of these have been around for decades, the last year alone has seen a huge upswing in new adages and acronyms for emerging workplace trends like work from home (WFH) and desk sharing (hotdesking).

Like many of today’s office dilemmas, workers have turned to the HR side of TikTok to make sense of the code.

Popular searches on the app are prefixed with ‘how do you professionally say’ and ‘how to corporate speak’ as employees turn to their favourite workplace influencers to navigate unfamiliar or sticky interactions at work.

The majority of Corporate Talk ‘tutoring’ on TikTok has been used to help young people develop and master conflict resolution techniques. These situations tend to be the most thorny for employees, as they can have a lasting negative impact on working relationships.

Here is an example of how a common workplace problem may be handled using Corporate Talk:

Initial wordingCorporate Talk version
“That makes no sense.”“Can you please elaborate on your thinking here?”
“I’ve told you this 5,000 times.”“I have provided this information previously.”
"Stop micromanaging me."“I feel that I am at my most productive when I have more autonomy.”

The trend particularly caters for those who are new to the office environment, empowering younger workers to have more control over their own performance management.

Through the trend, younger staff members are learning how to approach scenarios that may arise in the recruitment process such as asking for a salary raise or discussing probation targets.

Generational divide

The Corporate Talk trend is yet another indication that Gen Z employees are struggling to fit into a modern workplace culture that is changing beneath their feet.

It is natural for younger workers in typically entry-level roles to experience some form of imposter syndrome or anxiety. But the newest cohort is entering the workplace at a unique period of upheaval post-COVID.

Remote work has moved the majority of business communications online, while the relaxed aesthetics of the home office dress code has been praised and criticised in equal measure. Gen Z workers entering this environment without established connections to colleagues are left feeling lonely and lost in a sea of change.

According to a recent survey conducted by the student advice website, EduBirdie, 55% of Gen Z feel unprepared to deal with workplace issues. Meanwhile, 40% feel less mature than their peers or their parents were at this age.

Their anxiety is not unfounded. One recent survey of UK bosses found that 7 in 10 senior leaders think today’s graduates are underprepared for the workplace, and lacking soft skills like leadership and time management.

The threat of workplace jargon

Corporate language employs various tactics such as negotiation, persuasion, and presentation to promote positive working relationships.

By translating passive aggressions into phrases suitable for a professional setting, its tutors are helping young people to adapt to the workplace. But is that really the best way to react to the new era of business communication?

Some may argue that the use of esoteric and outdated work phrases can lead to alienation more than assimilation. Landmark, the flexible workspace provider, recently revealed that corporate jargon can both divide and unite the workforce.

In a survey of 2,000 UK employees, the company found that 12% think acronyms can cause workplace exclusion, with Gen Zers 10% more likely to be unfamiliar with business shorthand compared to older Millennials.

Sam Mardon, Chief Customer Officer at Landmark, comments: “Acronyms in the office can streamline and speed up conversations and communication with colleagues. Yet, for others, employees can find themselves surrounded by unfamiliar jargon, which can inadvertently cause confusion or miscommunication within the workspace.”

Is Slack making young people stupid?

Earlier this year, we reported on the rise in office slang that has entered the workplace alongside Gen Z. The majority of young people are now fluent in social media-inspired terms, which includes phrases such as “work goals” to describe career ambitions.

For many of those aged Millennial and above, Gen Z’s allergy to formality while at work is more baffling than troubling. But in some cases, the rise in text speech popularised by instant messaging platforms like Slack and social media sites like Discord has led to – well, discord.

In a recent survey by ResumeBuilder.com, 74% of managers and business leaders surveyed said they believe Gen Z is more difficult to work with than any other generation.

One respondent said they felt this age bracket lacked interpersonal skills required for face-to-face interactions, preventing them from building stronger relationships with colleagues and clients.

There is no Duolingo course in Gen Z slang for older generations, whose social media knowledge tends to start and end at Facebook. This language barrier could make it tricky for workers from generations to understand each other.

The importance of inclusive communication

In work, friendships, and romance, relationship breakdowns can genuinely be traced back to one core problem: poor communication.

In today's tech-enabled world, the business world is globalised and diverse. To avoid fostering poor employee engagement and disconnect, it is more important than ever for companies to create inclusive workplaces where everyone feels valued and respected.

Nurturing such an organisational culture, where all staff members feel comfortable and included, can be tricky for businesses working to this generational gap. One key aspect is to recognise and embrace the fact that people have different ways of communicating. These may be reflective of age, personality, or even biology.

Known as communication styles, these can be thought of as the professional version of love languages, describing the way people prefer to give and receive information. There are four common types of communication style:

  1. Direct communicators are assertive, preferring to get straight to the point quickly.
  2. Indirect communicators are subtle and diplomatic. They prefer to avoid conflict.
  3. Analytical communicators are logical. They prefer to have all of the facts before making a decision and may come across as cold or impersonal.
  4. Expressive communicators are emotional, and come across as warm and inviting.

When people are able to communicate in a way that is comfortable for them, they are more likely to be engaged, productive, and satisfied in their jobs. Additionally, embracing different communication styles can help to reduce conflict and improve collaboration.

Like leadership style, it is important for managers to know their own communication style so they can be aware of where misunderstanding might arise.

Other methods to encourage inclusive communication styles include using a variety of messaging channels to cater for multiple tones of voice, and taking measures to promote open and transparent communication across departments.

“[Corporate lingo] can be very personal, with individuals attributing a variety of meanings to some of the jargon we asked them about,” warns Mardon. “Office-goers should be cautious not to create barriers to others spending time in the office by minimising ambiguity.”

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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