Can you tell whether a company is in trouble by the words its employees use?


Workers who refer to their employer as “the company” or “that company” and co-workers as “they” are likely to be at companies with low morale and high turnover.

When employees refer to “our office” and “our company” they’re probably somewhere with low turnover. They probably work harder and feel fulfilled by their career.

From James Pennebaker’s book The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us:

Management consultants sometimes distinguish among I-companies, we-companies, and they-companies. To get a rough idea of an organization’s climate, they ask employees to talk about their typical workday. If employees refer to “my office” or “my company,” the atmosphere of the workplace is usually fine. People working in these I-companies are reasonably happy but not particularly wedded to the company itself. However, if they refer to “our office” or “our company,” pay special attention. Those in we-companies have embraced their workplace as part of their own identities. This sense of we-ness may explain why they work harder, have lower employee turnover, and have a greater sense of fulfillment about their work lives. And be very concerned if an organization’s employees start calling it “the company” or, worse, “that company” and referring to their co-workers as “they.” They-companies can be nightmares because workers are proclaiming that their work identity has nothing to do with them. No wonder consultants report that they-companies have unhappy workers and high turnover.

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