If you WFH, office jargon might leave you asking WTF?

They called me “the seagull”. When a colleague brought in muffins or popped a pack of half-eaten chips on the communal table, I’d always swoop.

We all ended up with nicknames in that particular team. There was “the spoon”, “platform”, “rigdawg”… even the boss was jokingly called “tech support” as he would often be seen helping out the intern with a computing error. The morning meeting was called “the stand-up” – aptly named because we, eh, stood. And, after a visiting US colleague described a classy act as a “pro move”, it became our highest form of praise.

Office jargon can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve been out of the office.
Office jargon can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve been out of the office.Credit:

Got your unread emails down to zero? That’s a pro move. Opened a pack of Jatz without ripping the tab? Pro move. Emptied the tearoom dishwasher? Pro. Move.

Maybe it’s my little-sister tendencies coming out, but I love a good nickname or piece of office jargon. But can lingo be confusing, or even exclusionary? I once told a newbie to get ready for “the stand-up” and terror crossed his face. “Like, stand-up comedy?” he stammered.

Herein lies the rub. On the one hand, jargon can bind you together as a team. It says, “I speak the lingo and I belong.” But if you’re not in the clique, it’s isolating and can feel unfriendly.

New research by LinkedIn and Duolingo found almost half of Aussie professionals believed workers with a better understanding of workplace jargon were able to get ahead at work. The research showed some of Australia’s best-loved jargon was lifted from cult shows like Kath and Kim and classic movies like The Castle. There’s nothing like dropping a well-timed “tell him he’s dreaming” in a meeting.

But not all jargon is going to make you friends. The research also found there was specific workplace jargon that Aussies found befuddling, with “boiling the ocean” taking the title of most confusing. (It’s actually a term that means undertaking an impossible task or making a task unnecessarily difficult.) The next most confusing terms were “noodling” (mulling over or thinking about something), “low-hanging fruit” (the most easily achieved tasks) and then there’s my personal least-favourite “is the juice worth the squeeze?” (knowing if something is worth the trouble).

Different industries have different jargon. My brother is a coastal engineer and I nearly spat my latte out laughing when he mentioned doing some work on “the discharge barge”.


I never knew my husband was someone who said things like “circle back” and “touching base” until COVID lockdowns forced us to work side by side at the dinner table.

Asking around, everyone has a hated jargon term. For some it’s “100 per cent”, for others it’s “going forward” or “leverage” or “learnings”.

You may think you’re someone who doesn’t use workplace jargon but, in contemporary offices, we’re all fluent in a yuppie language of TLAs (three-letter acronyms) and a host of workplace efficiency tools that have become verbs.

“Did you Slack me the deep dive? I’m WFH and can only see the WIP. I’ll call you on Teams this arvo before COB with the KPIs.”

I bet you understood every word of that. And if you didn’t, huzzah! This is how it feels to be on the other side of jargon.

The research found a disproportionate amount of remote and hybrid workers struggled with confusion around workplace jargon, compared with those who worked onsite. Anyone who has worked remotely while the team is in the office knows it can be hard enough to be across the actual work, let alone the lingo, in-jokes and gossip. And spare a thought for those workers who started new jobs during lockdown and didn’t even have the option of going into the office to break the ice, and the lingo.

Then there’s generational slang. Can someone please explain to me why the youngest members of my team call me “Kween” and “Mom”? Because, if I ask, it will give away the game that I’m 38 and have my own references they likely don’t understand. Next time we’re asked to do the same task, I should tell them, “Game on, moll” and see if they get it.

After reading this research, I’m going to try and phase out some slang and jargon I use at work. Like quitting caffeine, I assume there will be withdrawals. Maybe I’ll have to cut it out of my verbal diet slowly, or go cold turkey then splurge once a week with a cheat meal-style chat where I can use “blue-sky thinking” and enact a “paradigm shift” and quote Kath and Kim’s “baby cheeses” line all in the one Teams call.

To be honest, I’m noticing less jargon than I used to. These days, no one calls me “the seagull” and, to be honest, I kind of miss it. Sure, seagulls aren’t the most majestic of birds, but they spend their days at the beach, have good taste in chips, and when one seagull says “squark!“, all the other seagulls know exactly what she is saying.

Cayla Dengate is a Linkedin careers expert.

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Source: Thanks smh.com