“Gardening Leaves”

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We have incorporated social niceties into our daily conversations to cover, indeed, cover up the awkward bits we all come across in life and death. Euphemisms, as we know them now, originated with the Ancient Greeks who used them “to keep a holy silence” – that is, to speak well by not speaking at all.

The English are past masters at observing tricky subjects and are recognisable for their typical trait of beating about the bush. Take the workplace. Once upon a time, we were all quite happy to say exactly what it was we did. But as status has become ever more important, some quite straightforward occupations have developed some quite preposterous titles that require a little translating.

We have vision clearance engineer for a window cleaner, stock replenishment adviser for a shelf stacker; a dispatch services facilitator for a post room worker; head of verbal communications meaning a receptionist or secretary and an environment improvement technician for a cleaner. Some of the lingo really does require vision clearance if not a little interpreting.

Our daily lives can become habitual as we become more office-bound. And so it’s no wonder that we dither in coming to the delicate topic of hiring and firing.  Indeed, getting the sack has come in for all sorts of euphemistic verbal wanderings. It’s such an unpleasant request to ask people to clear their desks and take their skills elsewhere, that a huge number of words and phrases has grown up to describe the simple fact of redundancy.

For instance, it’s just possible that you’ve been handed your cards or perhaps you’re clearing your desk, considering your position or maybe becoming a consultant. Then again you’ve been deselected or you’re taking an early bath. Or else you’re excess to requirements or perhaps you’ve even been excluded.

However all of these ways to make you quit allow you to move on. Hence you’re going in order to give time to your other commitments or else you’re off on gardening leave. If you’re fortunate you’ll have negotiated a golden handshake and are not merely being given a leave of absence or let go. When you’re given notice let’s hope they don’t say its natural wastage or that you’ve been stood down. No, you’re spending more time with your wife and family, as it’s your right to do, even if your contract has been terminated and nobody could really describe this as a voluntary relocation. Need a translator?

Often this ‘small is better’ rationalising by the ruthless companies themselves allows for more indeterminate lingo. As they see it, they’re doing nothing more than a bit of decruitment. Or they are in fact degrowing or dehiring, delayering and destaffing. When they downsize some staff have had to take early release. Yes, there is a bit of executive outplacement and force reduction going on. Shall we call it internal reorganisation? Nobody is being put out to grass.

And that’s not the end of it. Maybe there’s been a personnel surplus reduction, indeed a straightforward rationalisation of the workforce. Some people have been redeployed. There’s been a bit of restructuring, some retrenching and rightsizing, not to mention schedule adjustment, selective separation and skill-mix adjustment. It’s all nothing more than a bit of transitioning, vocational relocation and workforce imbalance correction. Preposterous indeed. Why on earth do people think jargon is impressive? Sometimes it can be virtually impossible to interpret.

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