Youth marketing
min read

‘Let’s circle back’: how corporate slang has infiltrated the world of Gen Z

Published on
February 28, 2023
Last updated
January 18, 2024

What this article covers

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Gen Z, a generation aged 16-24, are famed for many things: their love for crocs, their eternal online presences, their obsession with pop culture, and, of course, their quirky (and occasionally niche) senses of humour.

The younger cohort of Gen Z might still be in school, but those aged 21-24 have officially entered the workplace, and they’re taking it by storm.

And, whilst they're certainly adding their own touches to the corporate world, there appears to be another phenomenon taking place. Yes, in a world of endless slang, Gen Z are taking their lingo from fun to formal.

What's driving this?

How the corporate world entered Gen Z’s vocab

Navigating the working world as a twenty-something can be difficult. One minute you were eating pesto pasta, the next you’re sending emails saying “Happy Friday!”.

There’s post-work drinks culture to get used to, coffee machine etiquette, and an endless amount of acronyms to learn. 

Whilst Gen Z have brought their own slang in droves into the workplace (Microsoft’s Chief Technology officer recently revealed he uses AI to decode Gen Z terminology!), there appears to be some kind of mutually beneficial relationship going on here. Gen Z appear to be leaving the slay at the door, and embracing corporate jargon not only in the workplace, but in their personal lives too.

Where did it all start, you ask?

Well, one answer might be through the media they consume.

Gen Z are big fans of television. Specifically, they populate a big viewership on reality shows, with 77% of those aged 16-24 tuning into this beloved genre.

The language of love (island)

Love Island, and its tanned, toned and white-teethed cohort of visually appealing youngsters has become a defining feature of the Gen Z cultural landscape.

In 2018, applications for the show overtook those for Oxbridge, whilst celebrities such as Lizzo and Margot Robbie are counted as super-fans.

Language is known for being an integral marker of culture – and whilst Love Island isn't actually a real Island (spoiler alert, sorry!), this truism still stands strong. Love Island lingo has had a huge influence on Gen Z.

Young consumers have adopted phrases like "cracking on", "day dot" and of course "mugged off" into their day-to-day vocabulary. Recently, however, the jargon appears to be changing from playful (and occasionally silly) to corporate.

Anyone who watched series eight will be familiar with the memes that followed contestant Danica Taylor. Taylor was mocked online after her conversations with male Islanders appeared more like a job interview than a flirtatious exchange.

One twitter user wrote: "Why are all of Danica's chats like a job interview? Thought she was gonna ask Adam to give two examples of when he's worked well as a team and overcome a difficult situation then stand up and shake his hand thanking him for coming."

The lexicon shift

Danica might have been mocked for her formality, but when you get into the nitty gritty of it, the verbage on Love Island is inherently formal because dating on there is sort of like a job interview. With limited time to secure love, fame and those ever important brand deals, Islanders are aware they need to move quickly. They're also aware that their Gen Z viewership values authenticity – so faking it isn't an option.

Interactions on Love Island are often instigated through seven famous words: Can I pull you for a chat?

Love Island's popularity has bizarrely seen this question go from synonymous to a conversation with HR to, (dare we say it), a pulling technique.

And, it's not just Love Island that’s driving this lexicon shift.

Married At First Sight Australia and the UK show Made In Chelsea have both frequently been mocked for the formality of their language. One clip of a heated exchange on Made In Chelsea went viral for being “the politest argument ever witnessed”, with another altercation between cast-mates closing with promises to “draw a line under it”.

Boundary setting?

However, whilst formal exchanges appear to be permeating in the media, this isn’t to say television is entirely responsible.

In 2019, the below tweet from writer Melissa Fabello went viral:

Fabello (who has a PhD, if you’re interested!) kicked off a viral Twitter discussion around how exactly we should communicate with loved ones, even including a template for those struggling to get their words together. She also shared in another tweet that "asking for consent for emotional labor, even from people with whom you have a long-standing relationship that is welcoming to crisis-averting, should be common practice".

The internet imploded, with some agreeing with Fabello's take and others deeming it absurd that we should use such formal phrasing in place of emotional language.

Whether it’s dealing with someone else's emotional trauma, breaking up with your partner or just having a difficult personal conversation, the pre-set strategy shared by Fabello feels like a lot. But should its popularity be surprising?

For Gen Z, perhaps not.

Gen Z might be the youngest generation in the workforce, but when it comes to communication, they’re carrying old heads on their shoulders. Young consumers are frequently searching for meaningful interactions, expecting brands to communicate in a way that feels personable and relatable to them. They’re a group who expect transparency, regardless of whether that comes from a brand, an employer or a partner.

This rise in formal language might simply be because Gen Z are better communicators than their predecessors. When they ask questions, they want answers – and sometimes casual phrasing isn't the best way to attain them.

The historical shifts of the workplace

This language shift can also be traced to the evolving nature of the workplace.

Remember the pre-laptop days of chunky computers and floppy disks? Unaesthetically pleasing as they were, they also ensured that when you left the office, you left the office.

Next, laptops and handheld devices dominated in a sleeker digital era. Then, the pandemic saw remote-first working become requisite – and finally, as we emerge from it, Gen Z have entered the hybrid era. 

Office two days a week, work from home three days a week – however you want to do it, this twilight zone has seen employees merging their corporate spheres into their home spheres quicker than you can say “let’s touch base!”. 

When it comes to technology, many are also using one single device to stream, work and manage their personal lives. So, in a world where Slack sits on the same iPhone interface as Hinge and Tinder, is it any surprise we’re finding it hard to distinguish the corporate with the personal?

A calendar invite for a strategy session at 2pm, and one for date night at 7pm

Dating your co-workers is a tale as old as time, and certainly not resigned to office-based jobs (we’re still mourning Kirsten Stewert and Robert Pattison...). 

However, Gen Z appears to be taking this normalisation to new levels. According to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource management, Gen Z workers are significantly more likely to be open to a workplace romance than other generations. This is corroborative of Voxburner research. In 2023, we surveyed 1000 Gen Zers on their sex and dating lives. When asked the question of how they would want to meet their future partner, a massive 92% said ‘in a real life setting’.

With the average person spending 90,000 hours of their life at work, the office is probably one of the likeliest ‘real life settings’ one can find. Hybrid workplaces have also allowed for relationships to flourish over Slack and Zoom, far away from co-worker judgement. In a landscape where Gen Z are meeting their romantic potentials in a workplace setting, it proves hard to distinguish the corporate to the personal.

An ode to the LinkedIn-fluencer

Moving away from the dating sphere, we can't forget the effect of the linkedin-fluencer.

Formalities in the age of social media have got stronger because social media is a space where people are trying to carve a personal and professional brand simultaneously. Influencers monetising their content on Instagram comes to mind here. Whilst this is an obvious example, it’s not the only one.

In the last five years, LinkedIn has transformed into a place for aspirational hustle-culture content, spawning what social media has labelled the “linkedin-fluencer”. These characters often share advice around how to be successful in the corporate world.

They’ve received their fair share of backlash (one subreddit aptly named LinkedInLunatics houses over 230,000 members).

Despite this, however, the content appears to be working.

In fact, 3 million users share content on a weekly basis. And the highest age group demographic of these users? 25 to 34. Whilst this is the older end of Gen Z, it does demonstrate that young consumers are spending a proportional amount of time absorbing and creating corporate content.

Key takeaways

So, what have we learned from all of this?

  • Hybrid workplaces are causing us to intermingle the personal with the professional, and this is having a knock on effect on our language.
  • Gen Z are big on communication and recognise that getting serious often requires formality.
  • Social media is increasingly being monetised as people work to create a personal and professional brand. The language they use is key to their credibility.

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