These common workplace words and phrases may be offending people.
Watch your mouth.
The word “gypped” really gets to Houston-resident Lauren Crain. So when the 26-year-old started her job as a digital marketer earlier this year, she struggled with whether to bring it up to a coworker who frequently used the word. “I realized that it was not meant with any malintent … that he didn’t realize the origin of the word,” she explains, so she didn’t say anything the first few times she heard it.
But he kept saying it, and then another coworker picked up on it and started saying it too. Though she felt uncomfortable saying something, especially since she was new to the team, she says she “felt like I had to … so I told them ‘guys, I really don’t know if you know this but gyp actually comes from gypsy’” and it’s an offensive word that stereotypes gypsies as thieves. “They didn’t realize that, and they stopped using it as soon as I said something,” she explains. “I knew, if I don’t say something, who will?”
This is far from the only word or phrase employees often use at work that may offend people. Here are nine more.
Hey guys. Many a work email — in an attempt to seem colloquial — has begun with this phrase, but Ngoc Nguyen, a career and leadership coach with career coaching firm Ama La Vida, notes that “gender-specific language can signal exclusion.” She recommends using “more inclusive language” like “friends, folks, everyone, you, or all.” You should also be aware of what gender pronoun you use when describing an individual as, “what you assume based on what you see might not be correct and using the wrong pronoun could hurt someone,” she adds.
Slave driver. This term is sometimes used to describe a tough boss, but it often makes coworkers feel uncomfortable because of its association with slavery, says Jane Solomon, Dictionary.com’s linguist-in-residence. “The history of slavery in the United States is recent history. Systemic racism against black people in the United States is an ongoing problem,” she says, noting that the term can be “inappropriate and harmful.”
Ghetto. Financial planner Michel Valbrun, who describes himself as a “millennial African American male” points out that ghetto — which can be used to describe something that seems low class or inferior — has “a racial undertone and can highly offensive” to a number of groups. “This is always a classist, and often a racist way to describe things,” says Solomon says of the word.
Having a gun to our heads. Earlier this week Adrienne Cooper, the chief people officer at small business website FitSmallBusiness.com, heard someone in a meeting say “having a gun to our heads to make a decision,” which she says “made me pause.” “It’s graphic, and gets the point across – you were under pressure, and perhaps it was a mission critical business decision.” But she notes that she immediately realized that there were likely victims of violence or domestic violence, or people who knew someone who was, that this hurt. (One study pointed out that nearly every American has or will know a victim of gun violence.) She thinks this phrase should be put to rest: “There’s enough violence in the world.”
OCD, ADD and bipolar. Employees often jokingly use words like this to describe themselves or others in the office, saying things like “I’m so OCD about my desk” (meaning that you keep is very clean), “he’s so ADD” (meaning he hops from one thing to the next very quickly) or “she’s totally bipolar” (meaning she goes from good to bad moods quickly). And while this “sounds innocent enough … you never know who around you might have a mental illness,” says Nguyen. Indeed, those are legitimate mental illnesses and using them jokingly can minimize the real struggles people with the disorders face each day. For the same reasons, avoid using words like crazy, insane and psycho, says Nguyen.
Diversity hire. “‘Diversity hire’ is a pejorative way to describe someone from a marginalized group who is perceived by other employees to be under-qualified and only there because they fill a quota,” says Solomon. “This is an extremely harmful and upsetting way to think about coworkers who are not straight white cis men and should be avoided.”
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