The importance of language cannot be overstated. Language can be a powerful tool in our workplaces, used for better or worse. Unfortunately, we too frequently employ terms that can cause unintentional harm.
Three phrases I propose we retire and replace in our professional vernacular are “divisions,” “triage,” and “sick days.”
Most organizations are structured to encourage departmental isolation or information silos. This leads to an environment where data is monopolized, collaboration between teams is scarce, and valuable information remains trapped within these silos, inaccessible to the broader organization.
This issue is sometimes intentional but often unintentional, leading to my point of contention. Why do we persist in referring to our business sectors as “divisions?”
Labels such as the marketing division, sales division, operations division, and finance division only serve to reinforce the silo mentality. The term “division” inherently suggests separation!
Instead, let’s adopt less divisive terminology like “business units” or “functions.”
Secondly, let’s consider “triage,” a term adopted from war medicine, where medics swiftly assess the condition of casualties following a conflict. This distressing process involves deciding who will receive the lifesaving treatment they may have available and, inevitably, who won’t.
Sadly, this grim activity became all too familiar in certain parts of the world when ICU capacities were overwhelmed due to COVID-19.
This term is also used in the corporate world, especially in financial departments, to denote the process of budget-trimming or strategic cost-cutting exercises performed periodically.
While I understand the rationale behind this in a business context, should we not retire the term “triage”? Our workplaces are not war zones and should avoid terminology that connotes such severe scenarios. Instead, how about we “fine-tune” our budgets and strategies?
Lastly, let’s reframe how we talk about our health at work. Everyone falls ill from time to time, whether it’s a minor headache, the flu, or a more severe injury.
Yet when we take time off to recuperate, why do we persist in calling this “sick leave”?
Of course, people get sick, but shouldn’t we refocus these periods as “health days” or “wellness days?” If the aim is to recover, why not employ more positive, health-focused language to reflect this?
In conclusion, I suggest that we collectively eliminate three terms from our corporate language, substituting them with more positive alternatives:
• Divisions become Business Units
• Triage becomes Fine-tune
• Sick Days become Wellness Days
Remember, language matters. Let’s use it to build bridges, not barriers, within our organizations.
PS. Visit www.worklifebloom.com for more information about my upcoming new book, Work-Life Bloom.