Execs use many words to avoid one: Layoffs

Rightsizing. Involuntary career events. Offboarding. There are lots of names for the same thing: Someone losing their job.

Companies laying off workers are increasingly using jargon to describe the terminations. "Executives are using all kinds of euphemisms to avoid being straightforward with their employees," Bloomberg reported Feb. 12.

The news outlet tracked references to job cuts from S&P 500 companies on earnings calls and other meetings, finding use of "reduction in force" and "rightsizing" ticking up in 2020 and again in 2023. While "reduction in force" was used more frequently as an alternative to "layoffs" around the Great Recession, "rightsizing" is now the more popular alternative.

Whatever language du jour a layoff is wrapped in, business professors say it doesn't make much difference to the person receiving the news — even if executives may wish otherwise. "They somehow seem to believe that if they use language that is more vague and less emotional, that people won't get as upset," said Robert Sutton, PhD, professor of management science and organizational behavior with Stanford University School of Engineering. Instead, euphemisms tend to have the opposite effect. 

Harvard Business School professor Sandra Sucher told Bloomberg that instead of using language to soften layoffs for the employer, leaders should take accountability and recognize the difficulty of these decisions. 

"You have to acknowledge the fact that you have done something that you understand has hurt their life in a very direct way," Ms. Sucher told Bloomberg

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