Rivkah Writes…

July 21, 2009

RIFs, Terminations, and Other Delights of Corporate Etymology

You’ve heard that layoffs* are imminent – or, in the words of the Department Wit – RIFs are rife. What’s not clear is whether you’ll be RIF-d, fired, or canned.

Let’s take a step back and analyze some of more arcane of these terms, like RIF. For those of you who’ve managed to remain blissfully ignorant of the term, RIF is an abbreviation for Reduction in Force, which in its turn, is a euphemism for being laid off, which in its turn is one way of saying you’ve been let go, which in its turn…I could go on, but will spare you.

The point is, RIF joins the pantheon of wildly euphemistic expressions for losing a job. Why euphemize a necessary corporate decision? Because no company or CEO wants to be associated with human grief, humiliation, and all the nasty, messy stuff job loss entails. So any kind of language that throws a mist of ambiguity over the stark truth is an absolute boon to the corporate hierarchy.

The funny thing about ambiguity, though, is the variety of meanings it can disguise. After all, the only reason RIFs signify job loss to us, is the same reason Pavlov’s dogs started drooling for food when they heard a bell  – conditioning – the combining of a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus which, through repeated pairing, turns into a conditioned response. So after a while, we don’t think about the phonetic associations or actual denotation of RIFs, because like Dr. Pavlov’s canines, we’ve bought into the whole conditioned reflex scenario.

But humor me, if you will, and assume you’re one of fortunate few who’ve never heard of RIF or any of the veiled references to job loss. What might be the first thing to enter your mind when you hear one of these terms?  

Let’s start with RIF. Add another “f” to “RIF” and you’ve got, in essence, a joke or witty expression. Like my riff on the inanities of corporate etymology. So before conditioning turns the phonetic denotation of “riff” into its unmistakable connotation, the mysterious RIF could be misunderstood as a joke or sly aside – hardly subtle on the part of corporate when you think about it. I can see the headlines now, “Getting Fired Isn’t Funny!” or “RIFs – Nothing to Riff About.”

Here’s another favorite of mine: “Your position is being eliminated.” Now to “eliminate” means to get rid of – it also means to expel waste from the body. So as the possible meanings of this expression pass through your mind, you’d be forgiven for the accompanying restroom imagery. No wonder you run tearfully from the site of your “elimination” deeming yourself no better than toilet paper. As for being “terminated” – Schwarzenegger machine-gunning his way through your cubicle wouldn’t be an unusual stretch.

So what do we have here? Instead of some harmlessly bland expressions prompting employees to vacate the premises in a civilized fashion, we have arguably harmful expressions whose ambiguity connotes a variety of unpleasant meanings. Is it any wonder, then, that getting RIF-d, eliminated or terminated is seen as a personal affront?

In his famous 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote

“Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly…”

Precisely. Which begs the question – does corporate America seek to think more clearly? I leave you with this parting thought: on occasion, playing dumb isn’t the sole province of blondes.

 

*For more articles related to layoffs and unemployment, please click on Laid Off: Variations on a Theme and You Know You’ve Reached an All-Time Low When…

June 14, 2009

You Know You’ve Reached an All-Time Low When…

Filed under: Humor,Unemployment — rivkahwrites @ 12:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

About 10 weeks ago, I wrote an article called Laid Off: Variations on a Theme, in which I concluded:                           

“…for me, getting laid off is more like lying in wait – I may not be actively employed, but I’m definitely in the game – tensed poised, and ready to spring into action.”

Inspiring, isn’t it? And on good days – or moments – I still feel that way. Nevertheless, I have to confront the fact that since April 5, despite having invested a ridiculous amount of effort, become a self-marketing pro, found fame on the unpaid bloggers circuit, and assumed poster-girl status for the overqualified unemployed, I still haven’t scored a single interview or registered even the faintest stirrings of interest on the job market scene. So please, allow me a moment to wallow.

Thank you. And now, in return for your indulgence, here’s a list to help you determine when you’ve truly hit bottom.

You Know You’ve Reached an All-Time Low When…

  1. Your kid makes more money babysitting than you make blogging
  2. You’re reduced to blogging for the Brooklyn Jewish Examiner at 1 cent a click
  3. You bookmark the “Certify Your Unemployment Benefits” page
  4. Your kid lends you money when you run out of cash
  5. You get an “A” in outplacement but you’re still out of a workplace
  6. You check your blog stats every half hour
  7. You ask your kid for babysitting referrals
  8. You find yourself humming “Suicide Is Painless”
  9. You dream of RSS feeds
  10. Your kid texts you from school to find out how you feel
  11. You find yourself singing “Suicide Is Painless”
  12. You have a meltdown every time the computer crashes
  13. Your non-paying gigs take up more time than your job ever did
  14. Your kid won’t let you watch the Lifetime channel because the movies make you cry
  15. You spend time on “Suicide Is Painless” Discussion Forums
  16. You begin to recognize the neighbors
  17. Your kid starts hiding sharp objects
  18. Your only exercise is walking the line between elation and desperation
  19. You miss the days when networking had something to do with telephones
  20. You stock up on tissues and Extra Strength Tylenol
  21. Your get carpel tunnel syndrome from keying in career info for your umpteenth search engine profile
  22. You give up setting your alarm
  23. You get bored by your own elevator pitch
  24. Your work friends stop calling
  25. You start doodling on your marketing plan
  26. You begin swearing at careerbuilder.com
  27. Your sleeping pills stop working
  28. You stop putting on make-up
  29. You get email alerts about security guard openings
  30. You begin to consider them

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