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We’re Going to Be Using ‘We’ a Little Less
March 19, 2024

We’re Going to Be Using ‘We’ a Little Less

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I Write for a Big Corporation. There’s One Word I Loathe., I write for a corporation. This is my small rebellion., Corporate communications: Why I loathe the word ‘we’

When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a writer. It’s the truth. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and I regularly write both fiction and nonfiction. But like many writers, I cover the bulk of my bills by shilling for a big corporation. Specifically, I craft internal communications for a Fortune 500 insurance company. I’ve worked there for nearly 7 years, and in that time, I’ve come to respect and fear one word more than any other: We.

In the world of creative writing, it’s rare to see work written in the second-person plural. But in the corporate world, it’s ubiquitous. As anecdotal evidence, I performed a ctrl+F search for We in the 58 pieces I’ve written for work between Jan. 1, 2024, and Feb. 23, 2024—the day I drafted this essay. Including instances of we’ll and we’re, it appeared 134 times. What does this look like in practice? It pains me to show you:

●     We’re hiring and training more adjusters to support our new operating model.
●     We’re excited to share the latest enhancements to our claim reporting technology.
●     This is what happens when we break down silos and innovate together!

We wasn’t part of my onboarding. My manager never told me to use it. But I fell into it naturally. Much like other companies, the one I work for is ditching fussy industry jargon for a more casual tone.

At first, using the word so much didn’t bother me. I enjoyed taking the formal, linguistically tortured drafts colleagues submitted and turning them into clear, brief, and friendly articles. I liked that the company was making an effort to talk to its employees like people rather than hierarchical underlings.

The problem is that a company talking to its employees like people doesn’t always tranMediaDownloader to treating its employees like people.

I can’t say my company treats us badly—or at least, that it treats me badly. I have a better salary and benefits than many friends who work in similar fields. But it’s still a publicly traded corporation, beholden to its profit-seeking shareholders. I’ve seen multiple rounds of layoffs during my tenure, and I worry I’ll be next—especially with the rise of artificial intelligence. Why pay a human to write well when you could pay a robot less to write tolerably?

To the company where I work, I am disposable, along with every other employee. But you wouldn’t know that from the company’s We-laden communications—many of which I write. We makes it sound like we’re in this together, when we are decidedly not. We papers over the blatant power differential between the C-suite and the rest of us. We makes us sound like a family unit, and family takes care of each other, right?

Perhaps employees should be smart enough not to buy into the We propaganda. (We have, after all, seen the egomaniacal meltdown of WeWork.) But even if we know better, what choice do we have? We live in an uncertain world, from pandemics to insurrections to school shootings. Despite the recent resurgence of the labor movement, it seems like the only remaining unshakeable institution is capitalism. A job can provide resources, benefits, a sense of stability, and even community, especially when people are made to feel like they’re part of a team. Until it doesn’t. ‘This is how we will reignite our growth,’ Nike’s CEO said in a memo last month—a memo in which he announced more than 1,500 job cuts.

I’m concerned not only for my fellow employees taken in by the Wes that people like me liberally pepper into corporate communications, but also for human beings in general, who are similarly taken in by the copious Wes on corporate websites, advertisements, and other marketing materials. ‘We champion continual progress’ on Nike’s site makes it sound like a group of hardworking peers constantly bettering their products. The inclusive pronoun may even make consumers feel like part of that progress through their brand loyalty. But Nike isn’t a collective; it’s a corporation with a history of questionable labor practices that reported $51.2 billion in revenues for the 2023 fiscal year. Its CEO, John ‘we’ll-reignite-growth-through-layoffs’ Donahoe, makes $33 million per year. The average Joe is not part of Nike’s We, no matter what Nike wants the average Joe to think.

There are parts of my job as a corporate communications writer that I genuinely enjoy. I like recognizing employees with a profile piece when they’ve accomplished something big—a technology fix with impressive cost savings, or a special connection made with a customer. It’s fun finding new ways to keep readers engaged, like when I started writing a series of stories about our fraud investigation team in the style of true crime. But most importantly, I value simplifying things for my colleagues. By clearly and concisely presenting the information they need to do their jobs well, I can help make their work less stressful.

The corporate We, however, can serve to obfuscate. Every time I use it, I’m describing a culture of care that doesn’t truly exist. Using a phrase like We heard you! may seem harmless when introducing a change in policy, but it suggests that the company’s motives are employee-driven rather than profit-driven. A cheerful We need your help! implies that the company values your opinion, when in reality it’s asking you to do extra work (unpaid!). We can be effective propaganda packed into a two-letter punch.

So, what’s a stooge like me to do? I don’t want to dupe my colleagues or my larger community, but I do want to buy groceries. I know I can’t singlehandedly take responsibility for or control trends in corporate language. But sharing anticapitalist memes on Instagram isn’t the most effective protest, either.

Until I win the lottery—or until the next round of layoffs—my plan is to use the corporate We a little less. Substituting the company’s name can remind readers of their actual position within a much larger and more powerful institution—one that doesn’t necessarily have their best interests at heart.


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