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The Evolution of Workplace Language: Gen Z Redefining Communication Norms

In a world where language and communication constantly adapt to the changing times, the workplace is no exception. The way we communicate on the job is undergoing a significant transformation, primarily attributed to the influence of Generation Z, according to research from Barclays LifeSkills.

Changing Landscape

Over the last five years, two-thirds of Brits (70%) have noticed a shift in workplace language due to the influx of young minds. Seven in ten (71%)  credit Gen Z with reducing workplace formality, while 73% note their increased workplace informality.

Differing Perspectives on Change

The advent of social media is often cited as a critical factor. However, there are marked differences in views between generations. For instance, 39% of individuals over 55 believe that social media has exerted the most significant impact on changing communication norms, while only 24% of those aged 18-24 share this perspective.

Out with the Old

Around a third (37%) of survey respondents tagged specific phrases commonly used in the workplace and certain expressions as old-fashioned. Words like 'Yours truly' and 'Yours sincerely' were classified under endangered workplace lingo. 

In contrast, more contemporary expressions such as 'Thanks!' (46%) and 'Thanks so much' (50%) were perceived as friendly. Even 'Ta!' received a warm reception from nearly a quarter (23%). 'Hiya' also sparked mixed opinions, with 42% finding it friendly, 36% considering it casual, and 26% viewing it as excessively informal.

Top Phrases Due for Retirement

The research identifies the top five phrases expected to retire from workplace communication within the next decade:

1. Yours Truly

2. Yours Sincerely

3. To Whom It May Concern

4. With Compliments

5. Respects

Embracing New Forms of Expression

With the popularity of digital communication tools, the workplace is no longer bound to traditional emails. Generation Z, in particular, is at the forefront of this shift, with nearly twice as many (49%) using instant messaging platforms as their older counterparts (27%). They find this mode of communication to be more personable and efficient. In contrast, individuals over 55 tend to favor email, considering it a more professional medium (54%).

Additionally, the emergence of new messaging applications provides many options to express individuality. From emoji reactions to GIFs and images, there are countless ways to convey emotions and personality. An astonishing 97% of those aged 18-24 expressed the need to showcase their personalities through workplace exchanges. However, 40% admit to struggling to do so through emails alone. 

The Way Forward

Kirstie Mackey, Head of Barclays LifeSkills, said, "The next generation is going to make their mark on the workforce regarding how we communicate. The shift to more personable language is a positive one. However, it's important to demonstrate an understanding of social etiquette in the workplace, which does differ from school or university. Striking the right balance while displaying your personality through your communications is key."

Dr. Laura Bailey, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Kent, notes that changing norms in the workplace are indeed reflected in the language younger employees use. Email threads and instant messaging platforms have blurred the lines between formal openings and sign-offs, making the latter feel out of place.

For older generations, the etiquette of letter writing may be deeply ingrained, becoming instinctual in written communication. In contrast, for Gen Z, social media has played a pivotal role in driving linguistic change and accelerating the spread of language trends.

Workplaces are evolving, and communication is at the forefront of this transformation. It's crucial to strike a balance between informality and workplace etiquette. With the rise of digital communication tools, the possibilities for expressing individuality and personality are endless. Adapting to these changes and finding the right balance will be essential for success in the modern workplace.


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