Annoying corporate buzzwords to avoid at the workplace

Dunja Jovanovic

Last updated on: January 20, 2022

What are your teammates’ go-to buzzwords?

A buzzword is a word or a phrase that’s popular and that everyone seems to use. 

In a corporate environment, certain buzzwords managed to become some sort of a shibboleth — by using them, you send the signal that you’re a professional and that you belong. 

In fact, according to a 2021 survey, 38% of employees feel pressured to use business jargon to fit in or appear competent.

Unfortunately, just like any other popular thing, buzzwords start getting annoying as soon as the trend starts fading away (sometimes, even earlier than that). 

In this article, we’ll go over some of the most annoying corporate buzzwords we hope to stop hearing in business communication. We’ll also give examples of what you can use instead — but, if you’re feeling creative, you can come up with something different yourself.

Annoying corporate buzzwords to avoid at the workplace - cover

Agile

Agile software development, agile project management, agile methodologies, agile processes… Agile has become the business world’s favorite word. 

Agile means to be able to move quickly and easily, while agile methodology implies:

  • dynamic interaction between teammates, 
  • continuous improvement, and 
  • responding to change while following a plan.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

While everyone seems to use the term, not everyone truly understands what it means.

🔸 What to use instead?

There is no perfect synonym for this buzzword — all we can do is learn more about agile to make sure we’re using the word correctly.

At the end of the day

At the end of the day” is everyone’s (least) favorite way to indicate closure or summary. 

Its use is not limited to evenings — people keep saying it throughout the whole day, which contributes to its high frequency.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

It’s not a harmful phrase — we just keep hearing it again and again.

🔸 What to use instead?

Depending on the context, you can use “in the end”, “ultimately”, or “the bottom line is…” (still a buzzword, but significantly less annoying).

Bandwidth

Sorry, I don’t have the bandwidth” is a professional-sounding way of saying you don’t have the time, capacity, or willingness to take up a new task. 

The more you have on your plate (another buzzword!), the more your bandwidth decreases. Bandwidth could be your energy, mental or physical, or a more concrete constraint — like your working hours.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

It sounds polite — but it’s just another way to tip-toe around saying “no” instead of being assertive.

🔸 What to use instead?

Avoid using clichés. Being direct and saying “I’m not available” or “I’m too busy” doesn’t mean you’re impolite — it’s just accurate.

Circle back

One of the most commonly used phrases during meetings or brainstorming sessions is “let’s circle back!”. It seems to be a go-to buzzword when someone doesn’t like an idea they’ve just heard, but they don’t want to directly say it.
In some instances, the team ends up “circling back” so much that they start spinning in circles, going nowhere with their meeting. 

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

People feel that either:

  • their ideas are being dismissed, or
  • the meeting they’re attending is pointless and they will have to schedule another — further wasting their time.

🔸 What to use instead?

Rephrasing won’t help that much as the annoying part is often not the expression itself, but the intentions behind it — the overused phrase is just a cherry on top. However, you can say “let’s discuss/revisit this later” or “let’s schedule another call” instead.

Example of using buzzwords in a team discussion in Pumble, business messaging app
Example of using buzzwords in a team discussion in Pumble, business messaging app

Competitive salary

If you’ve ever looked for a job, tell me if this scenario sounds familiar.

You open your laptop and go on a job search website, again. 

You click a job listing that looks promising. You like the job description and the responsibilities seem reasonable. You even fit almost all the requirements! 

Let’s get to the interesting part: how much are they paying?

Scroll, scroll, scroll.

“We offer a competitive salary.”

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

People don’t like to waste time. Many jobs have a wide salary range. No one wants to go through rounds and rounds of interviews just to find out the salary is much less than what they were expecting.

🔸 What to use instead?

Just list an actual salary you’re offering.

Empowerment and diversity

These two buzzwords have a similar story. Concepts such as empowerment or diversity are undoubtedly important — but they are being used so much that they became cliché. 

Being woke has become a trend among companies— but a big part of that activism is only performative.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

While the idea of empowering your employees sounds noble, not a lot of employees actually feel empowered by, for example, getting additional responsibilities. 

They would feel more empowered if they got a higher salary, more paid time off, or better benefits. 

Similar goes for diversity — companies are often more dedicated to appearing inclusive than making it one of their core values.

🔸 What to use instead?

Instead of using those words just because everyone else does, we should make attempt to install those values in our workplaces. Res, non verba.

Give 110% percent

Give 110% percent” is the most decorated participant on this list, as it’s voted to be the #1 most annoying phrase in 2018 and 2021. 

According to a 2021 Forbes article, 59% of the surveyed employees find the expression annoying.

No one seems to know how to pinpoint the exact reason. 

Is it because the expression is cringe? 

Or, is it because “giving 110%” often means coming to work early and leaving late, taking up additional tasks, and being overworked? 

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

Being expected to go above and beyond is not fun — it’s actually quite stressful. 

Especially if you’re not fairly compensated for your effort. 

Moreover, the phrase has become a cliché a long time ago — which adds to its annoyance level.

🔸 What to use instead?

The resentment is usually more towards the imposed expectations rather than the expression itself (even though hearing it everywhere doesn’t help). 

However, you can use a more realistic alternative — such as “Do your best.

Ideate

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, this buzzword “appeared in English in the early 1600s, with the specific meaning “to form an idea or conception of” in Platonic philosophy”.

But today, it has been associated with startup culture — and it means to create or develop ideas.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

A lot of people think it sounds pretentious and unnecessary.

🔸 What to use instead?

Instead of the pretentious term, you can use its everyday counterpart. Simplicity is the best strategy — you can just say “create/develop/come up with an idea.

Just a friendly reminder

No one likes getting friendly reminders — usually because they don’t really exude friendliness. It’s just a professional, non-confrontational way to communicate that you’re irritated at us because we’re holding you back from finishing your own task.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

A “friendly” reminder is rarely friendly. Like some other expressions popular in email communication (such as “As per my last email”), it sounds passive-aggressive.

🔸 What to use instead?

Just leave the “friendly” out — it’s too ingenuine.

Low-hanging fruit

Low-hanging fruit” are the tasks that are easily accomplished and demonstrate quick progress. As much as we love those tasks, we don’t share the same sentiment towards the expression. 

It first appeared in the Guardian article written by a poet P.J. Kavanaugh in 1968 — but it became widely popular during the 90s. 

Not to alarm you, but the 90s were 30 years ago — maybe it’s the time to retire the saying?

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

It’s outdated and it’s overused. 

🔸 What to use instead?

Opt for a phrase that’s, if not fresh and new, at least less used — such as “quick wins”, “easy rewards”, or “high return, low-risk items”.

Piggybacking

Have you ever heard your coworker say “To piggyback off of that idea”? 

Mostly used during meetings and brainstorming sessions, piggybacking found its way from children’s playgrounds to the corporate environment.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

It doesn’t sound professional — and we will have to live with a mental image of you piggybacking the person whose idea you further expanded on. 

🔸 What to use instead?

Choose something that sounds more office-appropriate, such as “I would like to follow up on/add on John’s idea.

Raising the bar

Everywhere you look, you’ll find inspirational stories and examples of how to be more successful — from blog articles to social media posts. 

You are expected to constantly raise the bar

As we grow and become better, maybe we should outgrow this buzzword, too.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

We should all constantly improve — but when leaders and managers keep saying to “raise the bar”, the bar in question is often unrealistically high.

🔸 What to use instead?

Up our standards” — it implies improvement, but doesn’t require always going above and beyond.

Reach out

If you’ve ever got a work email, it likely included the buzzword “reach out.” 

It’s often used by salespeople, but not exclusively. 

Presumably, the idea is to sound more personal — but we’ve heard it so many times that it’s not the case anymore.

Bonus points if you also include “Ping me” (“send me a quick message/email”) or “Hop on a call” (“get on the phone/video call”) — other typically hated buzzwords related to contacting someone.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

Using clichés doesn’t make you sound fancier, more personal, or more professional.

🔸 What to use instead?

Keep it simple — “Contact” is just fine.

Example of using business jargon in Pumble, business messaging app
Example of using business jargon in Pumble, business messaging app

Reinvent the wheel

Your team is having a brainstorming session. It’s going well — everyone is contributing and discussing. You are inspired, coming up with ideas left and right.
After someone excitedly shared their idea, your coworker says: “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel” — killing the positive atmosphere instantly.

If you think that’s irritating, you’re not alone. According to a 2021 survey we’ve already mentioned, 53% of the employees find the expression annoying.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

Typically, people find those who use the phrase more annoying than the phrase itself.

🔸 What to use instead?

Reinvent the wheel” means to duplicate a method that already exists — but maybe we can avoid that phrase altogether, as it doesn’t add much value to the conversation.

Synergy

“Synergy” has a flattering title of the most hated business jargon term among US workers — according to a 2019 GetResponse survey

It’s the perfect buzzword — it has a cool, futuristic sound, and a vague meaning. 

According to Google Trends, it has high search interest every year — which probably means a lot of people are looking for the exact definition. 

If you’re not sure what it means either, the answer is “increased effectiveness through collaboration.”

And if you want to further perplex someone, tell them “We need to leverage our synergies.” According to a LinkedIn article, the translation is “to have two highly complementary aspects of business humming along parallel to each other, as you take a series of deliberate steps to intersect those things and amplify their relationship within your organization.”

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

Like a lot of other buzzwords from our list, it became so overused in the past couple of years that people, upon hearing it, are more likely to get the urge to roll their eyes than to be impressed with your vocabulary. 

🔸 What to use instead?

In most contexts, a simple “collaboration” or “cooperation” works just fine.

Think outside the box

Think outside the box” became popular in the 70s and 80s, when management consultants challenged their clients to solve the “nine dots” puzzle. In the puzzle, there were nine dots grouped to look like a square, three in each row and column. 

The challenge was to connect all the dots with only four lines.

If you tried to do it within the lines of a square, you wouldn’t succeed. 

To solve the puzzle, your lines had to extend away from the box structured dots… Or, in other words, to go outside the box.

Think out of the box/The nine dots puzzle and two possible solutions
The “nine dots” puzzle — and two possible solutions

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

The expression is so overused that “think outside the box” is the least out-of-the-box string of words you can possibly assemble.

🔸 What to use instead?

Be creative”, “We should try to come up with something new and different”, “Think innovatively”, “Consider a non-traditional alternative”, or something else along those lines. All of these phrases are more creative than “think out of the box.”

Work smarter, not harder

To be completely honest, I’m guilty of using this one in some of my articles. 

The expression stemmed from the idea that we shouldn’t dedicate our whole life to work, but rather work as efficiently as possible, so we can spend enough time on other things we care about.

The expression was coined by Allan Mogensen, also known as “the Father of Work Simplification”, in the 1930s. 

Almost 100 years later, it’s still used (and arguably, overused) — partially as an answer to the popular hustle culture that promotes working as hard and as long as possible. 

Work-related stress can cause a variety of health problems — so no wonder people are shifting to a more sustainable, “smarter” mindset.

🔸 Why is this buzzword annoying?

The two are not mutually exclusive. Doing things in the most optimal way doesn’t mean the work will be a walk in the park.

Besides, it’s often assumed that higher efficiency results in working less, but in theory, the reward for finishing the work fast is usually just getting more work. It puts you in danger of working both smarter and harder.

🔸 What to use instead?

To avoid this, try being more precise — you can say “Work more efficiently”, for example.

Honorable mention: buzzwords that followed the rise of remote work

Remote and hybrid work is more popular than ever before. 

Business communication is changing as the work trends are shifting — if you want to quickly say something to your coworker, you probably can’t just go up to their desk and say it. 

You’ll likely have to contact them on a team messaging app

💡 If you’re working remotely, check out 25+ chat etiquette tips to follow at work and How to share information effectively in a remote setting.

New work circumstances also created new corporate buzzwords

These are the most common ones — and I bet you’ve heard them many, many times in 2020 and 2021:

  • Unprecedented — never done or known before
  • New normal — new circumstances that are out of the ordinary
  • Paradigm shift — a big, important change
  • Challenging/trying times — times of struggle
  • Take this offline — a polite way to tell someone their discussion is off-topic
  • We’re all in this together (this is almost exclusively used by corporations or people who are in a more privileged situation than us — in both cases, they’re not really in this with us)
  • Now more than ever — according to Google, the phrase “now more than ever” is used… now more than ever (or at least more than in the last 260 years).

These phrases may not be used as long as other buzzwords on this list — but as of recently, they are everywhere. They also remind us of an unpleasant, scary period of the Covid-19 pandemic, which makes them additionally irritating.

Hopefully, we’ll leave all of these behind when the times become less unprecedented (or — ideally — as soon as possible).

Wrapping up: Using clichés doesn’t make you sound more professional

As much as using buzzwords is normalized in the corporate setting, your coworkers will probably appreciate making a paradigm shift and switching up their vocabulary. Buzzwords won’t make you sound more professional or cooler — they can get obnoxious and irritating. They rarely add anything of value to the conversation.

Moreover, using meaningless business jargon frequently may confuse new employees, making it harder for them to feel comfortable and included.

Author: DunjaJovanovic

Dunja Jovanovic is a writer and researcher passionate about communication and psychology, especially in a professional setting. As she's no stranger to working remotely, she likes helping others survive in a virtual work environment and communicate as effectively as possible. When she's not writing, she's probably trying out the communication improvement strategies she stumbled upon during her never-ending research.

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