'Synergy-related headcount restructuring' and other euphemisms for 'you're fired'


Even the word layoff is a euphemism, when you think about it. Yes, it can serve to draw a distinction between budget-based and performance-based termination, but not many laid-off workers get recalled to their old jobs these days; "laid off" pretty much means you're fired.

And while certainly nothing new, the art of dodging plain English when it comes to describing mass firings continues to advance, so to speak, as the ongoing economic crisis piles mass firings one on top of another. For example, here's a headline on a press release forwarded to me this morning: "Nokia Siemens Networks enters final stage of synergy-related headcount restructuring."

"Hi, honey, I'm afraid I have bad news: I've been synergy-related headcount restructured."

A tone-deaf Nokia Siemens public relations department even goes so far as to put the mealy-mouthed words on the lips of company CEO Simon Beresford-Wylie: "With the successful completion of these plans, we will have the vast majority of the synergy-related headcount reductions completed and we can then start to put this chapter of our history behind us and focus on creating a world-class company."

A world-class company might start by referring to 3,000 individuals about to become jobless as people instead of "headcount," and their company-imposed trauma as a business decision instead of an inalienable force of nature.

After reading the Nokia Siemens release, I set off searching for other recent examples of companies resorting to euphemism (itself a euphemism for BS here) instead of calling layoffs layoffs. That didn't take long because the first item I found on Google News was this story posted today in Fortune by Yi-Wyn Yen, who had the same idea only sooner.

Among the examples noted in that story are American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault's use of "reengineering plan" (7,000 layoffs) and Fidelity Investment's Rodger Lawson resorting to "cost improvement plans" (1,300 fired).

The Fortune story also features business management experts unabashedly defending the practice.

"When you're doing something bad to someone, it helps to use vague language to distance yourself," says one expert.

And then this: "Companies have to reassure the people who are left that there's a plan in place. ... People see through what executives say, but what unnerves people the most is believing that nobody has control over anything."

So let me get this straight: Seeing your CEO spew obvious BS -- insulting BS, no less -- creates a sense that he wasn't personally responsible and that someone is in charge?

Actually, it tells me that someone doesn't care all that much ... and thinks I'm an idiot.

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