There is a saying that the truth is the first casualty of war. Well, when it comes to bad news the first casualty seems to be the English language.

‘Managers and politicians need to be reminded of the impact such decisions have on people’s lives’

It seems some organisations no longer make people redundant, they “demise” them or, more accurately, they “demise their posts”. Did the HR managers at HSBC advise that this sounded better than announcing 3,000 redundancies last week?

What should we understand from Barclays’ use of the expression “right-size” in preference to downsizing for describing a reorganisation that will cut 3,700 jobs? Did senior management hope to convince people that this was a positive move as opposed to an enforced reaction to the organisation’s financial position?

Mindful of your language

During a prolonged period of austerity, how long will it be before public sector organisations start using these expressions? Will some hospital trusts in future adjust staffing to “the right size”? Will local authorities be forced to “demise” more posts and will there be further exercises in “synergy related management head count adjustment” (or: reduction in management posts)?

Does it matter if HR departments create new management speak; it’s not as if it fools anyone? George Orwell explored the idea in 1984 that if you wanted to control they way people thought then first you controlled their language. Demising posts sounds less painful than cutting posts. Making organisations the right size sounds positive, whereas downsizing sounds negative. Reducing the headcount sounds detached and impersonal, while making people redundant sounds very personal.

Cutting services, losing posts and making people redundant is personal and painful. Managers and politicians need to be reminded of the impact such decisions have on people’s lives − not be given expressions to disguise it or words they feel more comfortable with.