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Off the Record: Deciphering HR, one pointless acronym at a time

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According to research done last year, the fifth most annoying word in the world is ‘YOLO’, which is an acronym for the phrase ‘you only live once’.

While YOLO – used mainly by tweens and people with poor judgment to justify doing something completely irrational – was beaten by other annoying words and phrases such as, ‘like’, ‘whatever’ and ‘you know’, it doesn’t surprise me that an acronym made the list.

Acronyms and abbreviated words are my enemy. I hate them, and it’s a problem because the world of HR (there’s one acronym already) uses so, so many of them.

When I started editing this magazine about a year and a half ago, I figured I’d pick up all the acronyms and industry jargon as I went along. This was true, in many respects, but I still struggle to wrap my head around all these damn acronyms.

Example: I read an article recently which mentioned the acronym CXO multiple times, but offered no explanation of what it stood for. Clearly, the author expected me to know.

“Should I know?” I asked myself worriedly. “Is this a common acronym I’ve somehow completely missed for my entire life?”

I asked a few colleagues (who also had no idea, thankfully) and in the end, I had to Google. I discovered CXO is generally a short way to collectively refer to corporate executives – basically, anyone whose job starts with “chief” and ends in “officer” (if you also didn’t know what this stood for, you’re welcome).

The explanation makes sense, but why refer to this group of executives as CXOs instead of “executives” or “C-suite”, as per? Why, oh why, must it become yet another acronym?

I’ve generally come to terms with the fact that HR loves acronyms. Many of them have become such a regular part of the industry lexicon that even I understand them.

In fact, there are a couple I have come across that I actually like. YOYO (you’re on your own) is a relatively common training and testing acronym I like because of the way it sounds, and BEER (behaviour, effect, expectation, results) is an enjoyable acronym for obvious reasons.

But from what I’ve heard, even you guys have trouble keeping up with the sheer number of abbreviated words and phrases in your chosen field.

The HR director of a government organisation told me when he took on his current role not too long ago, a 20-page document landed on his desk among all the onboarding material.

Was it a document containing company policy, mission statements and visions, or business strategies? No, don’t be silly. It was pages and pages of acronyms he would have to learn in order to be able to do his job.

If a very senior and experienced HR director needs a giant decoding package to decipher acronyms, then what chance do I have?

I can’t do anything about the acronyms which already exist. I either have to learn them, or start creating my own referral document, but here’s my plea: NO MORE. For the love of god, no more.

As a journalist, I understand the benefits of having a shorthand in order to deal with and understand a lot of information in a short space of time, but please… just stop.

IMHO, most of them make me RME B/C they are a CWOT. Not all of them, BSF, WTF*

*Translation: In my honest opinion, most of them make me roll my eyes because they are a complete waste of time. Not all them, but seriously folks, what the ****.

** Okay, so that’s mostly text speak, but you get the point. It’s annoying.

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Rebecca Lewis
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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