Nov 30th 2020
These are difficult times in the world of work. Though many people moan about the stresses of remote communications or covid-compromised commutes and working conditions, millions are worrying about whether they will have a job tomorrow or have already been laid off. The only thing that seems certain is change.
A gamut of euphemisms has long been employed to describe this reality. To that end getting the sack has its origins in the pre-modern economy, when workers would haul their tools and belongings around in a sack to use as necessary: when their labour was no longer needed, theyd be handed the sack back and move on. At least thats a little less brutal than being given the axe.
Many companies now use robotically faceless expressions to refer to the fate of their staff: firms restructure, streamline and downsize, they reposition, realign and integrate. Perhaps worst of all, they make efficiencies. Only occasionally do they say it like it is. Workers, too, have their own lingo to describe modern employment. So, whether youre a Zoom zealot who cant stop working, or are enjoying the escape from the scrutiny of your boss, in an uncertain climate, it pays to understand the subtext.
An unhealthy compulsion to work (noun)
Doing too much can be hazardous
Office workers foresaw a welcome change of pace as they were banished to their living rooms at the start of lockdown. Frenzied commutes would give way to lie-ins. Lunch, usually a pre-packaged sandwich wolfed down between meetings, could be savoured. They might even sneak in a mid-afternoon yoga session. For many the reality has been different. Hours saved travelling have been filled with high-speed email traffic. The distinction between workplace and home has blurred, and bosses now call on subordinates at all hours of the day. Every waking moment is a slot to achieve things in.
The term for this inability to switch off is toxic productivity. Its a very modern platitude; today toxic is used to describe everything from sexism (toxic masculinity) to inequality (toxic wealth). It was the Oxford English Dictionarys word of the year in 2018. Britney Spears showed Nostradamus-like powers of perception when she released a single of the same name in 2003, though she probably didnt have an overflowing email inbox in mind.
The pandemic hasnt made workaholics of us all, as Netflixs swelling subscriber count attests. Yet the fact that many of us are as busy as ever, even when theoretically this time offered a chance to reconsider our own priorities in life, seems like a toxic waste.Bo Franklin
Decapitation, or lay-offs (noun)
In Japan you can lose your head along with your job
When samurai reigned Japan during the Edo period from 1603 to 1867, serious criminals were often punished by beheading with a sword. Kubikiri, or decapitation, has since been outlawed (and replaced by hanging), but the word continues to instil fear in the present-day Japanese, who now dread a different form of kubikiri: getting axed by their employer.
Salarymen and salarywomen, as white-collar workers are called, spend most of their waking hours toiling away in stuffy office cubicles. Japan has a culture of long hours and plenty of people dedicate their entire working lives to a single company. Lay-offs, especially for the more dutiful workaholics, are an assault not just on their livelihoods but their sense of identity. Some employers show no mercy in performing the modern-day kubikiri. Others are more subtle: they engage in the art of kata tataki, or tapping the shoulder, by nudging underperforming salarymen to resign of their own accord. Most employees get the hint and choose to quit long before the sword falls.Miki Kobayashi
To fire an employee(s) by video (verb)
How to end 1,000 careers with brutal efficiency
As well as breaking business models and causing millions of job losses, the pandemic has put company bosses in a pickle. How do you fire an employee respectfully if you cant do it in person? Many have settled on the same device they use to bore their charges in endless meetings: video calls.
Some couples saw quarantine as the perfect time to leave listless relationships via brutal zumpings, meaning to end a relationship on video call. Such virus-inspired methods have mutated before our eyes now Zoom is coming to kill your career hopes, too. Looking your soon-to-be-ex-boss in their pixelated pupils is at least more personal than a text or email, though blurry images and frozen screens can make these video rejections awkward and stilted, as well as upsetting.
Zumping person-to-person is just about OK in the current climate. Some companies have chosen to scale up the method, however, by firing many people sometimes thousands in a single Zoom session. Tech firms seem particularly prone. In May a tearful Uber executive laid off 3,500 people on one call, her eyes appearing to dart away off-camera (perhaps towards a script, some observers suggested). Plenty of more traditional companies have coldly chucked their employees via webcam too. WW International, a dieting giant that used to go by the name Weight Watchers, gave some employees the bad news in a call lasting less than three minutes. In zumping, Weight Watchers seems finally to have found a quick way to trim the fat.Bo Franklin
A day when the boss is out of office (noun)
When the boss is away, the underlings will play
Office hierarchy is strict in South Korea. In many workplaces subordinates cant go home until their boss does, even if its after midnight. The alternative? Missing out on a raise or promotion. Cancelled dates and tepid dinners are unavoidable in a normal week. So, when the boss is out of office, or even better on holiday, a celebration is in order.
This special day is known as a mudujeol, a day when the boss is away. Its a chance to de-stress, dress down and take an extended lunch break. Many employees find they work more efficiently without constant meetings. Some may even risk leaving on time. The mudujeol is as sacred as other jeol (holidays) in South Korea, including Childrens Day, when parents treat their kids to toys. Office workers refer to mudujeol as their own Childrens Day, when the bosss minions can finally play.
The strain of such working conditions has become a national talking point. At some firms managers are now required to take leave; their offices becoming more relaxed. Labour laws are changing too. In 2018 the government passed a bill reducing South Koreas maximum statutory weekly working hours from 68 to 52.
So what happened when everyone started working from home during the coronavirus pandemic? For a while, at the peak of the spread, workers were relieved to be free from the bosss gaze. But the respite was short-lived: Korean authorities have been largely successful in containing covid-19, so workers are now back in the office and under the thumb. As the virus continues to rage in so many other countries, bosses are less likely than ever to take time away for a holiday.Raphael Rashid
To fry squid (caau jaujyu in Cantonese, chao youyu in Mandarin)
To be fired from your job (verb)
Less delicious than it sounds
As China opened up to the world in the 1980s and 1990s over a hundred million workers from across the country poured into factories across Guangdong, a province in southern China that became a manufacturing hub. Employers would provide bunk beds in dormitories but staff brought their own bedding. If they were laid off, they would roll up their quilts and move on an action that resembled a squid curling as it is fried. Enter to fry squid, a popular term in China to describe being fired.
Other theories about the phrases origin abound. In one telling, bosses would treat staff to a meal before firing them. Their portion often included a generous helping of fried squid. Employees would see the dish, get the hint and know that after some delicious seafood, it was time to pack up their belongings. Though the phrase originated in Cantonese, which is widely spoken in Hong Kong and Guangdong province, its now also commonly used in Mandarin, the official language of mainland China.
These days even office workers use the expression: I became fried squid today. Over time, people have reclaimed the phrase its now common to say I fried my own squid to describe resigning from a job. When described in culinary terms, even some of lifes most unpleasant experiences become a little more palatable.Sue Lin-Wong
Hit the slide
To quit your job in spectacular fashion (verb)
Alls well that ends well
In 2010 a JetBlue flight from Pittsburgh to New York had only just touched down when a passenger ignored the fasten-seat-belt sign to retrieve her luggage from an overhead locker. In doing so her bags apparently hit Steven Slater, a stressed-out American flight attendant, on the head, according to Slaters version of events. The passenger refused to apologise, and Slater snapped. He took his sore skull to the aircrafts intercom. Ive been in this business for 20 years. And thats it, Im done, he concluded in a colourfully worded rant. Slater then activated the planes emergency-evacuation chute, grabbed two beers from the snack trolley and exited via an inflatable slide, never to be seen aboard a JetBlue flight again.
These actions grounded Slaters career in aviation; he was arrested and charged with criminal mischief, among other offences (he later agreed to a plea bargain). Yet his glide into tarmac-paved freedom became a beacon of hope (or at least daydreams) for disgruntled workers everywhere, many of whom quietly fantasise about staging an Oscar-worthy exit from their jobs.Hollie Berman
Remote work (noun)
Labouring in lockdown, with Russian characteristics
Before the pandemic flexible working was alien to most people in Russia. A name was needed to describe this newly essential, but unorthodox, practice, so Russians settled on udalyonka, which translates as remoteness in English.
Until this year only a few Russian tech whizzes used the term. Now it can be heard on Zoom meetings across the country and even in pop songs. In a recent music video Rodion Gazmanov, a singer, depicted his fantasy of life on udalyonka: waking up after a party in a room strewn with lingerie-clad women, he bravely answers his phone for a video call. Alyonka, Alyonka, we are now on udalyonka, Gazmanov informs his beloved. For those of us still wearing the same pair of baggy joggers, its an unfamiliar scene.
Perhaps it was this imaginative vision of remote work that spurred some Russian companies to invest in surveillance software. Developers of one Russian app promise to deliver clients a literal picture of each workday of your employees. Stakhanovite, another program designed for prying bosses, includes a subscription package dubbed Total Control.
Despite the proliferation of the word, udalyonka is possible only for those with jobs at big companies or who live in cities. Fortunately, the rest of Russia can rely on pop stars to show them what they are missing.Sasha Raspopina
La mise au placard
Being put in the closet, or encouraged to resign (verb)
The French are as discreet about employment as extra-marital affairs
Though French workplace rules have eased a little in recent years, its still expensive to fire someone and often cheaper if they resign. So, to entice an employee to leave, theres a workplace purgatory known as la mise au placard, or being put in the closet: you still have to turn up every day, but youre gradually isolated and stripped of your responsibilities.
The crazy-making part of the closet is that no one actually tells you that youre in it the practice is considered moral harassment and is illegal. And most people enter gradually: first youre no longer invited to meetings or cced on emails, then you arent consulted on decisions or given new assignments. In extreme cases, someone else is hired, given your exact job title and handed all your work.
The psychological toll of la mise au placard can be severe. Websites warn of depression and social isolation when colleagues avoid you and superiors denigrate or ignore you. Yet you have to remain at your desk, sometimes for months. Though you can take your company to court, the legal battle tends to be arduous and slow. One benefit of telecommuting during the pandemic is that, if youre put in the closet, at least you get to be in it at home and wearing pyjamas.Pamela Druckerman
ILLUSTRATIONS: HEATHER LANDIS
Read the rest here:
From zumping to fried squid: the new language of work - The Economist