There is a saying that the truth is the first casualty of war. Well when it comes to bad news the first casualty seems to be the English language. As of last week organisations no longer make people redundant they demise them or more accurately they demise their posts. Did the HR managers at HSBC advise that this sounded better than announcing 3,000 redundancies? What should we understand from Barclays use of the expression “right size” in preference to downsizeing to describing a reorganisation that will cut 3,700 jobs. Did senior management hope to convince people that this was a positive move as opposed to an enforced reaction to the organisations financial position? During a prolonged period of austerity how long will it be before public sector organisations start using these expressions? Will some hospital trusts in future adjust staffing to the right size? Will local authorities be forced to demise more posts and will there be further exercises in “synergy related management head count adjustment” (reduction in management posts)?
Does it matter if HR creates new management speak it’s not as if it fools any one? Well George Orwell (1984) put forward the idea that if you wanted to control they way people thought then first you controlled their language. Demising posts sounds less painful than cutting posts, getting organisations the right size sounds positive where as downsizing sounds negative and reducing the headcount sounds detached and impersonal whereas making people redundant sounds very personal.
Cutting services, losing posts and making people redundant is personal and painful, managers and politicians need to be reminded of the impact on people’s lives not be given expressions to disguise the brutality or words they feel more “comfortable” with.
Blair McPherson author of People management in a harsh financial climate published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk