HR Strange But True!
September 01, 2009

If you want to make one of the editors of this column wince, just use the phrase “it is what it is.” The editor is not alone in his annoyance with the cliché--a recent survey found that executives ranked it as one of the most annoying or overused phrase in the workplace today.

The Accountemps survey included 150 senior executives from the nation's 1,000 largest companies. For the survey, executives were asked, “What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?” Their responses included:

  • Leverage
  • Reach out
  • It is what it is
  • Viral (marketing)
  • Game changer
  • Disconnect
  • Value-add
  • Circle back (e.g. “I'm heading out of the office now, but I will circle back with you later.”)
  • Socialize (e.g. “We need to socialize this concept with our key stakeholders.”)
  • Interface (e.g. “My job requires me to interface with all levels of the organization.”)
  • Cutting edge

In the case of “it is what it is,” the workplace isn't the only area where its usage has grown. In 2004, a USA Today writer chose the phrase as the Sports Quote of the Year, citing dozens of examples in which professional athletes and coaches used it “to sum up troubles of all sorts and send an instant message that it's time to move on.” Several members of the Bush administration also invoked the phrase when speaking to the press. What is the origin of the phrase? The USA Today writer wasn't able to find out but did say that the phrase isn't new.

Accountemps conducted a similar survey in 2004. The following buzzwords were cited in both the 2004 and 2009 surveys:

  • At the end of the day
  • Synergy
  • Solution
  • Think outside the box
  • On the same page
  • Customer-centric

“When business or industry terms become overused, people stop paying attention to them,” said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps. “Nearly everyone is guilty of using buzzwords from time to time. But professionals are evaluated increasingly on their ability to communicate. Avoiding overused terms, particularly in formal communication, can help workers more effectively convey their message.”

Source: Accountemps

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