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The HR landscape is ever-evolving, and the terms used often reflect the challenges and peculiarities of the workplace at a given time. If you hear a few of them out of context, you might think to yourself “There are a lot of weird HR terms.”

As workplaces and societal norms evolve, HR has to adapt and innovate. These terms, though they may sound like jargon, represent the intricate nuances of modern human resource challenges, strategies, and communication.

Some of these "weird" terms can be a bit whimsical, while others highlight serious trends or issues in HR. In any case, it's a worthwhile endeavor for someone in HR, as much as any professional, to stay updated with the language and methodologies of their field.

Weird HR Terms

Blind Recruitment: The process of removing personal and demographic information from the job application process to avoid unconscious bias. It focuses on skills and experience rather than factors like name, gender, or ethnicity.

Boomerang Employee: An individual who leaves a company and then returns to work there at a later date. This term highlights the importance of maintaining good relationships with former employees through effective offboarding as they might bring back enhanced skills or experience.

C-Suite Cowboys: Executives or high-level managers who operate independently or without consultation, often taking risks that may not align with the broader organizational strategy.

Cafeteria-style Benefits: An employee benefits approach where employees can choose from a variety of different benefit options, much like selecting items in a cafeteria. It's a flexible benefits plan tailored to individual needs.

Culture Add: A twist on the traditional term “culture fit”. Instead of looking for someone who fits into the current company culture, HR looks for individuals who can bring diverse perspectives and contribute to enhancing the organizational culture.

Desk Rage: Similar to 'road rage', this term describes employees displaying overt anger or frustration in the workplace, often due to work pressures or conflicts with colleagues.

Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS): Adapted from the NPS used in marketing, it gauges employee loyalty by asking them the likelihood they would recommend the company as a place to work.

Flight Risk: Employees who are likely to leave an organization soon, either because of a perceived lack of challenge, dissatisfaction with the job, better offers from other organizations, or other personal or professional reasons.

Ghosting: Borrowed from the world of modern dating, this term refers to candidates who suddenly cut off all communication during the hiring process. For instance, they might not show up for an interview or their first day of work without any notice.

Golden Handcuffs: Financial allurements and benefits that encourage employees to remain with a company rather than moving to another employer. Typically, they are in the form of stock options, bonuses or other financial rewards.

Golden Parachute: A substantial benefits package given to top executives in the event that they lose their job due to a company being acquired or merged.

Holacracy: A system of organizational governance where decision-making authority is distributed throughout self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy. Popularized by companies like Zappos, the model has mostly failed in places where it was attempted. 

Hot-desking: A workplace strategy where desks are used by different employees at different times, based on the concept that not all employees need to be in the office at the same time. It’s a space-saving strategy and reflects the mobile nature of modern work. Technology can help companies manage the hot desk booking process through software.

Hoteling: Desk hoteling, also simply referred to as "hoteling," is a resource management practice where employees don't have assigned desks or offices. Instead, they reserve a workspace when they need it, similar to how you'd book a room in a hotel.

Hygiene Factors: Elements derived from Herzberg's two-factor theory. They don't necessarily motivate employees when present, but their absence can demotivate. Examples are salary, job security and working conditions.

Intrapreneur: An employee within a company who promotes innovative product development and marketing, behaving like an entrepreneur but within the boundaries of an organization.

Jelly Bean Engagement Test: A quirky method to measure employee engagement. HR places a jar of jelly beans in a common area. Employees take a jelly bean when they feel engaged and leave one when they don't. Over time, the level of beans provides a non-scientific measure of engagement.

Mandatory Fun: Refers sarcastically to company events or activities that are intended to be voluntary and enjoyable, but employees feel obligated to attend.

Purple Squirrel: A term used by HR professionals and recruiters to describe an impossibly perfect job candidate – one who meets all of an organization's specific (and often unrealistic) requirements. It's often used to express the challenges in finding such a candidate.

Sandwich Generation: Employees who are in the middle of caring for their growing children and aging parents at the same time, often facing increased stress and demands on their time.

Silver Medalists: Candidates who were strong contenders for a job position but didn't get selected. Companies sometimes keep in touch with silver medalists for future job openings, but the term is odd because it implies the candidate got something when in fact, all they ended up with was a rejection email.

Stay Interview: The opposite of an exit interview, a stay interview is conducted to understand why employees stay with a company and what might make them consider leaving. It's a proactive approach to improve retention.

VUCA: An acronym standing for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. It describes the challenging, dynamic and fast-changing nature of today's business environment which HR professionals must navigate.

War for Talent: A term coined by McKinsey in 1997, it refers to the increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining talented employees.

Zombie Employee: Refers to employees who are disengaged to the point where they're simply "going through the motions" at work, lacking passion or enthusiasm for their job.

By David Rice

David Rice is a long time journalist and editor who specializes in covering human resources and leadership topics. His career has seen him focus on a variety of industries for both print and digital publications in the United States and UK.