Offices have become much less formal environments since the coronavirus pandemic — causal workwear and less rigid working hours are now commonplace. And there is another area of work that is becoming less traditional: language.
New research from Barclays LifeSkills found that 70% of Brits noticed language changes at work over the last five years, while 73% said they now communicated less formally. The findings, published Tuesday, were based on a survey of more than 2,000 Brits said to represent the national average.
Gen Z, which is defined as people aged 18-24 for the purpose of Barclays’ research, appears to be leading the shift. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of those surveyed credited younger workers with the change.
“Our research shows that the next generation are clearly going to make their mark on the workforce when it comes to how we communicate,” said Kirstie Mackey, head of Barclays LifeSkills.
Written communication is one of the impact areas, and some email sign offs could be replaced by more casual phrases, according to the data.
‘Yours truly’, ‘yours sincerely’, and ‘to whom it may concern’ were the three phrases most likely to disappear from the workplace within the next decade, according to the report. Signing off an email ‘with compliments’ or ‘respects’ were the fourth and fifth most likely to go extinct from office lingo.
These phrases are already being replaced as Brits view the phrases as outdated. Both ‘thanks!’ and ‘thanks so much’ were found to be increasingly popular, with 46% and 50% of respondents saying these were friendly responses.
Other more causal phrases, however, were deemed to be more divisive — simply going with the short from for thank you, ‘ta!’ was considered over-familiar by 29% of respondents, but friendly by 23%. And ‘hiya’ was viewed as friendly by 42%, but as over-familiar by 26%.
The changes aren’t just affecting what is being said, but also how things are being communicated. Nearly half (49%) of Gen Z, for example, often use instant messaging platforms at work, whereas just 27% of those aged over 55 do so. That age group still prefers email, saying this method feels more professional.
Laura Bailey, senior lecturer in English language and linguistics at the University of Kent, says the shift toward a more causal tone goes hand in hand with the emergence of workplace messaging platforms.
“Email threads and instant messaging platforms have become blended into ‘conversations’ where formal openings and sign offs might feel out of place,” Bailey said.
The generational differences can be explained by broader shifts in how communication has been taught and what different age groups were familiar with, she added.
While traditional letter-writing styles translate into any form of written communication for older workers, younger ones have been influenced by changing language styles that spread quickly through social media, Bailey said.
Barclays LifeSkills’ Mackey said that given the definition of office-appropriate language was in flux, there were a few key things to remember.
Avoiding over-familiarity with colleagues and making sure your tone is perceived as friendly rather than rude were two of them, she said.
Another important consideration was whether a short message or email would suffice to convey what you want to say, and thinking about which option the recipient would prefer, Mackey suggested.