UK workers struggle to find meaning

Talk about workplace misunderstandings: 14% of employees think the term 'time off in lieu' means a toilet break. Apparently.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 15 Dec 2010

And if you thought that was a strange thing to get in exchange for putting in extra hours, a further 4% believe the phrase means 'time spent in a place called Lieu'.

That’s according to research by HR consultancy Reabur, which surveyed 1,103 employees across the UK to discover if workplace terminology is often less familiar than people would assume.

And the results are, at first glance, ridiculous. When asked the multiple-choice question ‘what do you think the term "blue sky thinking" means?’ 9% apparently responded with ‘working outside’. Asked about the meaning of flexi-time, a staggering 19% believe it refers to office aerobics. Others said it was a kind of watch.

It gets worse: 13% of the respondents thought that the term ‘annual leave’ meant ‘time off for one complete year’. The report didn’t say how many thought it meant ‘taking a holiday to read a book summarising the past 12 months of Smash Hits’.  

Reabur’s co-founder Georgina Read has described the findings as ‘shocking’. Perhaps we should buck the current trend towards cuts and start calling for a terminology tsar?

More shocking perhaps is the idea of publishing the results of a multiple-choice survey, which includes many less than sensible options among its answer choices, as a serious piece of research. Indeed, it would be interesting to learn what percentage of employees mistake the word ‘survey’ for ‘chance to dick about for a minute instead of working’.

According to Read, the results prove the need for employers to ensure their staff understand the meanings of office terminology, rather than just assume they know the meaning. Which is a fair point given the amount of buzzwords that people seem to love to circulate. ‘We wouldn’t want people thinking they need to head out of the emergency exit when they’re asked to go to the "break out area",’ she adds, in the belief that 17% of our workforce would be in danger of making that mistake.  

Perhaps it’s in Reabur’s interests to beef up people’s understanding of workplace terms. Given it’s an HR mediator, its team must get asked what that actually means rather a lot. Answer: someone who goes into offices and sits with their legs crossed and eyes shut, going ‘ohhhhhm’.

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