HR Leader logo
Stay connected.   Subscribe  to our newsletter

This week in HR news: Corporate jargon, sexual harassment, and chronic illness

By Nick Wilson | |7 minute read

Over the past week, HR attentions have been divided. Of everything we read, the articles that most hooked our attention were on corporate lingo, sexual harassment payouts in Australia, and the rates and costs of workplace chronic illness.

The military roots of corporate jargon

This week, BBC Worklife asked how and why corporate jargon emerges. If you’ve ever “run it up the flagpole”, “circled back”, “double-clicked”, or God-forbid considered the “synergy” of a given arrangement – you’ve engaged in office jargon. It’s a sobering realisation that a phrase you once used ironically has become part of your everyday lexicon, but the processes behind this phenomenon are fascinating and enduring.


According to Leon Prieto, professor of management at Clayton State University, considerable chunks of today’s corporate-speak came from the military world.

“Corporate jargon emerged as a by-product of the cultural and professional integration of military veterans into the [American] business world post-World War II,” said Dr Prieto.

Consider workplace lingo like “logistics”, “strategy”, “plan of attack”, or “boots on the ground”. Outside of conflict zones, what business do these words have in, well, business?

“These veterans brought with them not only their specialised skills but also their military lexicon. This language, steeped in discipline and strategic thinking, found a natural fit in the corporate environment, which was rapidly evolving during the post-war economic boom,” Dr Prieto said.

While shorthands like these serve a social function, they can also be used to exclude out-groups. They can make it harder for new starters or younger employees to acclimatise to a new corporate environment, and it can even be used to show off.

“Language is one of the mechanisms of [showing off] – it’s how you demonstrate that you’re competent, you’re capable,” said Zachariah Brown, assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Harmful or helpful, one thing is clear: people “love to hate” corporate jargon, said Dr Brown. And the more we seem to hate these words, the harder they stick.

Kiss don’t tell: Sexual harassment payouts on the rise

Sexual Harassment Australia principal Gary Pinchen said the number of workplace sexual harassment cases is growing as working women are being subjected to “predatory male behaviour”, reported the Herald Sun.

Disturbingly, predators tend to make use of power imbalances in perpetrating their abuse. As noted by Mr Pinchen: “You do find it’s usually people in positions of power that are higher up the food chain. These are the abusers in these situations.”

These powerful abusers tend to target individuals in positions of relative vulnerability. Sometimes, it’s financial vulnerability; other times, it’s a kind of social isolation, said Mr Pinchen, who added that abusers sometimes pay as much as $200,000 to keep their victims silent.

While more attention is given to big businesses where cultures of harassment and sexual discrimination are allowed to develop, Mr Pinchen said the trend, at the moment, is a rising number of cases coming from restaurants and cafes.

As noted in the article, a Senate inquiry last year revealed cases of sexual harassment at “most consulting companies”. At PwC, for example, 100 complaints of sexual harassment were recorded since 2019, while at Deloitte, four exiting staff had been involved in sexual harassment, bullying, or discrimination allegations over an 18-month period. The separation agreements signed by all four included confidentiality provisions.

While new federal sexual harassment laws have recently come into place, Victoria is developing legislation that would prohibit the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in workplace sexual harassment cases.

“These cases are very hard to prosecute, so the police and lawyers don’t want to deal with them, and the victims don’t want to have to go public and have their character called into question,” a government source told the Herald Sun.

Work is causing, worsening, and discriminating against chronic illness

Research from the University of Melbourne found that 73 per cent of Australians with chronic illness believe their illness was at least partially caused by or worsened by their work. Nearly one in five identified work as the sole cause of their condition or its worsening over time. The results of the study were unpacked in a recent article from The Conversation.

The problem goes beyond the causes or contributors to chronic health conditions; the research also found that individuals with chronic illness were likely to report workplace discrimination. For example, 65 per cent reported being treated unfairly in the workplace, while 52 per cent reported being harassed.

Concerningly, albeit unsurprisingly, many workers are reluctant to disclose their illness due to fears of being discriminated against or stigmatised.

“Few organisations have sophisticated approaches to managing employees who are chronically ill. And managers often feel ill-equipped to effectively support chronically ill employees,” said The Conversation.

Organisations often rely on outdated HR systems designed to deal with short-term illnesses in their approach to chronic illness, while chronically ill workers are too often excluded from diversity and inclusion policy.



According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, discrimination occurs when one individual or group of people is regarded less favourably than another because of their origins or certain personality traits. When a regulation or policy is unfairly applied to everyone yet disadvantages some persons due to a shared personal trait, that is also discrimination.


Harassment is defined as persistent behaviour or acts that intimidate, threaten, or uncomfortably affect other employees at work. Because of anti-discrimination laws and the Fair Work Act of 2009, harassment in Australia is prohibited on the basis of protected characteristics.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is characterised as persistent, frequent, and unwanted sexual approaches or behaviour of a sexual nature at work. Sexually harassing another person in a setting that involves education, employment, or the provision of goods or services is prohibited under the law.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.