Language & Work

Ever Eaten a Reality Sandwich or Actually Put Your Ducks in a Row?

Of course not; So why do we keep talking that way at work?

New research from American Express pokes fun at ‘Jargon Junkies’ and those who, admittedly, pretend to understand understand the often esoteric language of the workforce.

June 15, 2017 — NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Have you ever heard a coworker say something like, “It ladders up to our overarching framework and optimizes the impactfulness of our deliverables,” and wondered, “HUH?”

You’re not alone. In a survey of America’s office workers by American Express OPEN, 88 percent admit to pretending to understand office jargon, even when they really have no idea what it means. Yet two-thirds (64%) still say they use jargon words or phrases multiple times a week.

Jargon Junkies fail to use real words and regularly cause confusion (also known as “reverse-leveraging clarity initiatives”), but they aren’t the only barrier standing in the way of business today. The American Express OPEN ‘Get Business Done’ Survey looked into office culture habits to uncover the idiosyncrasies that keep us from getting more business done.

Meetings About Meetings About Emails

We’ve all been to a less-than-productive meeting, but more than one-third of employees spend nearly 1,200 hours a year in meetings they call “pointless.” That amounts to losing 150 work days or 30 work weeks each year to meetings.1

When employees check out of a meeting, they tend to daydream about things like groceries and islands. Top distractions of choice include thinking about running errands (43%), taking a vacation (32%), wondering “what were they thinking?” about coworkers’ wardrobes (29%) or inserting a witty joke to make the meeting more fun (27%) – because nothing says productivity like a well-timed pun.

When workers finish their meetings for the day, they stay plugged in outside of regular work hours to catch up. Employees admit they’ve responded to work email at less-than-productive times of day: after 10pm (36%), on vacations (36%), while out on dates (15%), and even as late as 3am (19%). All the best decisions come after the bars close, right?

After all that time spent in meetings and on email, it’s no surprise workers most often call in “sick” just to take a mental health day (35%). We all need a little pampering sometimes.

Culture Eats Strategy’s Lunch

Meetings and email are predictably maligned office activities, but other productivity barriers are less obvious. The over-sharing of cat videos and the constant monitoring of breaking news also compete with real work: over half of office workers (52%) say social media hinders their output (surprise!) and 30 percent are glued to the news. That rush of dopamine from phone alerts is really addictive. Workers even admit to some bizarre office offenses that can unexpectedly affect productivity, ranging from having eaten someone else’s lunch out of the fridge (18%) to stealing a parking spot (18%) to not cleaning up the microwave after use (17%).

Getting to “Yes”

In addition to all the other unproductive office behaviors, we also often say “no” without actually saying it. When we blame it on “logistical concerns” or “budgetary issues,” it’s like “yes” can’t even get through the door. More than 3 in every 10 workers (31%) say ideas are shut down too quickly in their office and more than half (52%) agree with the statement, “our internal office culture creates a lot of barriers to executing good ideas.”

Get Business Done

There are clearly issues impeding momentum, and company leaders and employees can start to address these obstacles. Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and bestselling author, has partnered with American Express to provide tips on how workers today can take action to remove barriers and improve productivity:

Office “babblespeak” just adds unnecessary distance between coworkers. Consider if we all spoke like that at a party!

  • Be Real
    Everyone can be more productive and engender more trust by avoiding rampant business jargon. Office “babblespeak” just adds unnecessary distance between coworkers. Consider if we all spoke like that at a party! Try being more human, conversational and approachable at work, which will make everyone happier and likely lead to better results.
  • Resist Meeting Mania
    Few things halt morale more than endless, yawn-worthy meetings where employees privately attempt to reverse their sleep deprivation. Instead, be more strategic about meeting goals and consider brief one-on-one discussions, calls or emails. Conduct necessary meetings only with those who really need to attend, and be thoughtful about email distribution and blasts.
  • Focus
    With the ever-growing number of apps, social media platforms, adorable videos and mind-boggling news headlines, it’s a wonder that anything gets done. Remember that success depends on the ability to rise above the noise. The more disruptions you can block out of your work flow, the better.
  • Catch Yourself Saying “No”
    Managers and team members should all take greater notice each time an idea is turned down or a new convenient way to say “no” is found – which can often be passive-aggressive. A more emotionally intelligent approach is to acknowledge an idea and give it some genuine thought. Few ideas come out perfectly when first spoken, but after many iterations, they can create momentum and unexpected breakthroughs – if only given a chance.
    Despite the many hurdles, businesses are constantly evolving to meet the challenges of today’s fast-moving, action-oriented business environment.

“At Amex, we understand and face many of the same workplace challenges that are affecting offices across the country,” said Courtney Kelso, Senior Vice President, Global Strategy, Brand, and Field Enablement, American Express OPEN. “From meeting culture to days where ‘no’ is the most popular word, we want to highlight these workplace barriers and help our customers overcome them to be more productive and get more business done.”

To highlight the everyday absurdities that stand in the way of productivity, American Express OPEN is launching a campaign that features the real struggles we all face in the office with videos, social media content and a series from workplace expert Lynn Taylor on OPEN Forum. Current TV spots set to begin airing include:

Say No To No and Get Business Done (:30)

Say No To No and Get Business Done (:15)

Say Yes To Getting Business Done (:30)

Say Yes To Getting Business Done (:15)

Jargon (:30, exclusively on social media)

Survey Methodology

The American Express OPEN Get Business Done Survey findings are based on a survey conducted by Morar Consulting fielded across the US between May 30th – June 5th, 2017. For this survey, 1,061 employees were asked about their views regarding “jargon” words usage, distractions, idea barriers and office personalities in the workspace. The study targeted employees who work in an office of 5+ people in multiple industries. Respondents were recruited through a number of different mechanisms, via different sources to join the panels and participate in market research surveys. All panelists have passed a double opt-in process and complete on average 300 profiling data points prior to taking part in surveys. Respondents are invited to take part via email and are provided with a small monetary incentive for doing so. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. All data points were rounded for the purposes of reporting.




About American Express OPEN
American Express OPEN offers the money, tools and know-how to help you get business done. Through innovative products and services, we help businesses with short-term financing, business management tools, cross border payments, global currency solutions and travel. Learn more about American Express OPEN at
1Based on 37% of respondents saying that they spend between 3-8 hours a day in “pointless” meetings, which is a median average of 5 hours a day across the 240 working days in a year.