Why bad workplace writing demotivates staff

There’s nothing quite like bad writing to demotivate a workforce.

Most senior-level people can write clearly but so often this doesn’t filter down through an organisation.

Staff at mid and lower levels can regularly be found scratching their heads in confusion at emails and other missives sent by co-workers.

In most cases they think it’s just them who doesn’t get it. So they stay quiet.

Clear writing in the workplace – the antidote to apathy

But staying quiet creates bewilderment which, if allowed to continue, can affect staff enthusiasm.

Clear writing is a part of good management. You can’t have one without the other. How can people be enthusiastic about anything if they don’t understand it?

They can pretend but how does that inspire motivation?

They think they might know what something means but are afraid to ask.

They hope it’ll become clear in time but it rarely does. And then it’s been going on for too long. They’ll look silly if they ask now.

Information overload and the need for plain English

Information is pumped out every second to satisfy the digital appetite.

Emails intended for one person will often copy in 20 others, most of whom ‘reply to all’ with one-word answers.

Everyone becomes indoctrinated by jargon-infested nonsense and no one even recognises it as such.

Man shouting

The hapless new staff member with professional fervour and unfamiliarity with corporate waffle, squints at the screen long into the evening reading lengthy email trails of gibberish in a frantic effort to understand.

They don’t know it yet but they’ve started the slow descent into quiet despair.

In today’s ‘always on’ corporate culture people work long after normal office hours.

Scientists talk about a time when we’ll have computer chips implanted into our brains to enable us to process vast amounts of information in seconds.

That day isn’t here yet. Our brains are not wired to cope with the consequences of the 24-hour digital workplace.

Simplifying or dumbing down?

Shouldn’t anything that simplifies communication between humans be a priority?

It doesn’t mean dumbing down. There’s enough of that on social media.

It means cutting out the silly, made-up, business-speak used so frequently in the workplace.

How many times have you had to read something twice or several times to figure out its meaning? What a waste of brain energy.

Corporate waffle

It’s the afternoon of the new employee’s second day. The following email is sent from the Head of Corporate Affairs:

Dear all

We are launching a strategic review to scope collaborative productivity opportunities. The output of our analysis of the potential collaborative productivity deliverables show they work as end-to-end solutions.

We are at the stage of needing to hear the narrative to inform the collective headline workstreams, an opportunity that also enables business critical dependency. If we can bottom out a resolution it will have the added benefit of assisting the firm in articulating all delivery options.

We would like to hear from individuals with a proficiency in the footprint’s digital maturity to support with scoping and horizon scanning implementations so we achieve maximum pull in articulating in the matrix deliverable.

Kind regards

Sach Drivelle – Head of Corporate Affairs

This letter is a fabricated example drawn from a list of phrases (below) included in an email sent to a group of people by a manager in the National Health Service.

  • End-to-end solutions
  • Bottom out
  • Footprint
  • Scoping
  • Hear the narrative
  • Headline collaborative work streams
  • Potential collaborative productivity deliverables
  • Scope collaborative productivity opportunities
  • Digital maturity
  • Critical dependency
  • Articulating delivery options
  • Can articulate in the paper the deliverable.

When the person who sent this email was asked to clarify the phrases, she was genuinely puzzled.

Businessman in despair

Colleagues had never questioned the language before. Instead they simply spawned more of it.

So what? If she and her colleagues understand it, what’s the problem?

The point is, why risk alienating that new staff member who’s clueless about your particular department’s style and jargon?

Why make their first day even more tiring and stressful than is necessary? Isn’t life too complicated already?

Aren’t we deciphering Too Much Information anyway? There’s even an acronym for this now – TMI.

The write-as-you-speak rule doesn’t operate here because most people who write this way also speak this way.

Plain English is always the winner. Simplify. Cut the waffle. Get your message understood.

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