Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.
I work with a few white millennials who are constantly saying things like, “Fo sho,” “True dat,” “You go gurl,” etc. — within Slacks and email in particular. It’s downright Michael Scott-ian in terms of both its tone deafness and cringe-worthiness. It doesn’t necessarily offend me, but I’m also white so I’m probably not as sensitive to it as someone else might be. I do, though, find it embarrassing — to both them and the company. Do I actually say something or just hope they learn their lesson in some other way that doesn’t involve me? — Seth K., Albany, New York
What you’re talking about is known academically as cultural appropriation; it’s a buzz-y, nearly ubiquitous term these days. It used to be considered a socially acceptable way to integrate different cultures into society. Over the last few decades, however, cultural appropriation has developed a deeply negative connotation. Instead, the term cultural exchange is used for the positive aspects of sharing cultures.
In your example, it seems as though you’ve got a bunch of posers who think it’s cool to culturally appropriate a cliché, derogatory form of street slang. It’s offensive, full-stop, and never appropriate at work. Generally speaking, posers tend to misuse jargon. They’re more concerned with looking cool than thinking deeply enough to understand that what they’re saying is crude or offensive.
You might point them to Urban Dictionary so they actually understand the slang they’re using. Or you can point out to them that these communications — Slack, email, real-time chat rooms — are owned by the company. That means they can be subpoenaed or used for disciplinary actions. So you definitely want to be careful what you say there. Unrelenting honesty is fine, too. Because, at best, they look like a jerk when they use this language. At worst, they look like a racist or sexist.
Consider yourself a mentor to the ignorant in these situations. It’s not political correctness; it’s teaching the corporate ropes to the unenlightened.
Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.