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Joe Szynkowski: Softening up harsh corporate lingo

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Sunsetting. Sounds nice, right? The term invokes thoughts of warm ocean breezes and cold piña coladas.

But when used in a corporate environment, sunsetting is anything but bright and bubbly. I talked with a corporate leader from CVS this week looking for a new role. Her executive manager recently shared that they would be sunsetting her department.

Which means all of the people, processes, best practices, budgets, partnerships and culture she built over five years would be eliminated from the company.

Talk about dark.

Companies do this frequently. Shareholder value is put ahead of employee experience. They use tactics like layoffs, outsourcing, and offshoring — the list goes on — to keep investors happy.

This philosophy started with former GE Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch. Want to know how many in the business world feel about Welch? The title of a 2022 “New York Times” Bestseller says it all: “The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America ― and How to Undo His Legacy.”

This has actually been one of my favorite books of the year. I recommend it for your next trip to the beach.

Reading it actually gave me the idea to come up with a few other new terms that companies can use to save face while using their people as pawns.

Since the term ‘sunsetting’ is catching on as the new term for corporate terminations, here are a few replacement words for unsettling phrases like severance pay, discrimination, and noncompete agreements.

Sounds fun, right? Let’s dig in.

Severance pay

Doesn’t the word severance conjure up imagery of swords and scalpels? Corporations would probably rather us rephrase this with the term, ‘Julienne Pay.’ For all our cooking fans out there, the Julienne is a knife cut that creates long, slender pieces by thinly slicing the vegetable into planks. Then you stack a few planks and cut them into thin strips.

And it just sounds fancy.

The cutting pain of being laid off — even if you’ve done all things right in your job — is one that takes a while to get over. I’ve helped numerous professionals who literally can’t seem to move past a termination. It shakes their confidence and keeps them on the sidelines for years. Perhaps the change in terminology will make severance easier to swallow.


This is a weighty word. Recent statistics from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission show that 61% of employees in the United States have experienced or witnessed workplace discrimination.

According to the EEOC, some of the most common discriminations by type are equal pay, national origin, pregnancy, race, and religion.

Corporations would rather us call it ‘favoritism.’ Because if you’re going to treat someone poorly, you might as well make someone else feel like they're your favorite.

Noncompete agreement

For fellow freelancers and solopreneurs out there, you’ll likely see the term ‘non-compete’ in a negative light. Ignoring a non-compete agreement could mean delayed payments or not getting paid at all. It can also stifle your business plan by restricting who you work with far into the future.

Not all non-competes are bad. But speaking from experience, some can be too restrictive. I’ve actually seen some be the tipping point for legal action against freelancers.

So, let’s call it the ‘Fortress Agreement,’ because you’re basically in a dungeon unable to truly run your freelance business. And ‘fortress’ just sounds more regal.

This column has been brought to you by the word, “Employee.” Because the power has rested in the hands of employers for long enough.

Joe Szynkowski is the happy founder and owner of The UpWrite Group, a small local firm that has offered corporate communications, personal branding, public relations, and ghostwriting services since 2008. Email for more information.


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