Job site company Glassdoor made its 2022 U.S. word of the year “return-to-office.” While Glassdoor’s ranking of buzzwords is based on data rather than anecdotal evidence — for context, “RTO” mentions in job reviews jumped 122% from 2021 — I am making a case for the word “recession” instead.
Not only did it incite a range of emotions from HR professionals and workers at large, but the word “recession” fueled organizational upheaval and drove entire industries to shift talent strategies.
To be fair, Glassdoor’s data does nod to widespread recession concerns. Year-over-year mentions of “hybrid” increased by 388% and “inflation” mentions jumped 322%. Coming in third place and ranking above “return-to-office” was “recession,” which was mentioned 133% more in 2022.
Unlike “return-to-office” — a cousin of Glassdoor’s 2021 word of the year, “hybrid” — “recession” is the word with greater reverberations this year. The economic downturn added a fresh layer to all kinds of HR conversations: company profitability, pay and pay transparency, layoffs and how those layoffs affect employee experience. It’s worth noting that of all the tech layoffs in 2022, Elon Musk’s takeover and makeover of Twitter is a masterclass in what not to do in reducing headcount.
Employment law and staffing experts told my colleague Ginger Christ that almost everything about Musk’s acquisition had been “out of the ordinary,” from firing execs to poorly communicated objectives all around. And of course, there was Musk’s Twitter 2.0 ultimatum, demanding that workers who survived layoffs should strive to put in “long hours at high intensity” — putting talent in a tough position to navigate a squeezed economy and tenuous labor market.
Lastly, words of the year should spark up a little controversy. (For example, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s word of the year is “gaslighting.” Oxford Languages’ word of the year is “goblin mode.”) As nuances of the U.S. economy continue to be hotly contested, “recession” would make a great award candidate for HR word of the year.
The National Bureau of Economic Research hasn’t named a formal recession, but as I reported in August, 41% of workers believe that we’re already in one, Conference Board data suggests. Per the National Association of Business Economics, 72% of economists surveyed said they believe the U.S. will be in a recession by mid-2023.
Ultimately, what makes a word of the year special is that whatever person or institution chooses it does so because it captures a specific groundswell, an intense vignette of existence, a moment in time. Throughout 2023, “recession” may just be an undeniable facet of our reality and not quite a word of the year candidate — just like “return-to-office” was last year.