Synergy-related Sacking: The Lingo of Unemployment

Posted by Mark Peters

How to can employees in a humane and deceitful manner

Unemployment is a national disease, and I just want you to know that I feel your pain, employers of America.Hey, anyone can sympathize with out-of-work citizens trying to pay the bills and shelter the family. It takes a truly great humanitarian to bleed for the captains of industry, the bazillionaires and kabillionaires and Scrooge McDucks, the affluent few who have been forced to fire thousands and/or switch their private jet fuel to unleaded. If that's not a code-orange embarrassment at the private airfield, I don't know what is!Because I feel the pain of the Jabba-the-Hut-sized business owners of America, I wish to assist them with one of their most dire needs: how to can employees in a humane and deceitful manner.Just as labeling your love is a challenge, trimming the payroll can make even the most limber-tongued entrepreneur/supervillain reach for the thesaurus. With apologies to pink slip, discharge, disemploy, dismiss, dispatch, decruitment, reduce redundancies, show the door, give someone their walking papers, make a change in the org chart, and career change opportunity, here's a handy list of terms for the unkindest cuts of all.downsizingHistory: Predicting the implosion of the auto industry, this word first referred (in the seventies) to making smaller cars without sacrificing interior space. As the frequently-upsized Oxford English Dictionary tells us, the current meaning was first found in 1990: "Communicators were facing tough times on their jobs. Many were getting downsized and outplaced."Pros: It's no longer super-euphemistic; everyone knows what it means.Cons: Everyone knows what it means. For a more effective cloaking of reality, see next term.rightsizingHistory: This dates from at least 1987 and sounds jokey, but it's no joke that some businesses really use the term: "SET adopts 'right-sizing' strategy; asks 60 to leave."Pros: Sounds like a good thing, if it referred to pants. In fact, RightSize is also the name of a diet shake.Cons: Implies that soon-to-be-cut employees are like unsightly love handles on the flabby company frame. And speaking of exercise metaphors…getting fitHistory: Getting fit is usually associated with bulging muscles, toned abs, and legs that go all the way down to the floor. But with the econo-meltdown, some not-so-frank folks at Yahoo have had to let a lot of people go, and when you spread that kind of misery, it needs to be applied with a rounded, childproof, butter knife of an expression, as displayed in a leaked memo: "…as we look ahead and to position us for success in 2009, we're continuing the work already underway to get fit as an organization: actively looking for ways to make process and structural changes to our business that will allow us to work more efficiently, with more scale."Pros: Very creative. Will overheat all but the most powerful decoder rings.Cons: If you actually said this to an employee's face, the employee, by law, is justified in applying the Five-point Palm Exploding Heart Technique that got such rave reviews in Kill Bill.reduction in force, RIF, riffHistory: Thanks to Dave Wilton for pointing me in the direction of this term, which is military in origin and easily verbed, as in this recent use: "Slashed budgets and riffed staffs are forcing enterprise users of proprietary software business solutions to rethink the suitability of open source replacement products."Pros: Acronyms are awesome. So are guitar riffs and comedic riffs.Cons: Reduction may be too honest a word choice for today's jittery-squirrel-like stockholders.terminate, terminationHistory: This meaning is as old as 1973, but back in the 1600's, the word was a synonym for determine. Terminate may never recover from 1984's The Terminator, which gave it an Arnold Schwarzenegger-y odor that just won't come out.Pros: Reminds me of the awesome expression for assassination-"terminate with extreme prejudice." Hmm. Is that really a pro?Cons: Reminders of death seldom warm the cockles of employer or employee.sackHistory: The earliest meanings of sack as a verb referred to putting stuff and people in sacks-the latter being a prelude to drowning. In the 1840s, employers started to give the sack to their employees, and by the late 1960's, the word applied to behind-scrimmage quarterback-clobbering as well.Pros: The many meanings of sack form a coherent chorus: Loss of life, jobs, and yards go together nicely.Cons: Scores low on the deceit-o-meter every CEO carries in their utility belt.synergy-related headcount restructuringHistory: Too ridiculous to be true? Must be fake? I made this up? No, no, and no. Though rarely used, because it is insane, Nokia Siemens really coined this expression in a press release.Pros: Synergy is a magical word makes anything sound golden to businesspeople…Cons: … and absolutely preposterous to the rest of us.Sizers and sackers and synergy-producers of American, don't be limited by my suggestions. You are the haiku poets of America, with job loss and misery replacing cherry blossoms and frogs. Riff away!(Just keep your mitts off my job, thank you).Illustrations by Will Etling.