The Problem With Pet Names in the Workplace

Young professionals (YPs) working in customer service, sales, hospitality, etc. can be notorious for it, but don’t think that the techy industry or creative sectors are immune to the “sweetheart” slingers. Pet name culprits may think they are being cool or cute, but in reality, referring to people in the workplace as “babe,” or “bro,” dear,” or “dude” can actually come off as condescending; but more importantly, it’s just totally inappropriate. Whether in dealings with customers or with coworkers, pet names have no place in the professional work environment.

Verbal Attire
Consider the way that we refer to people in the workplace as an extension of our overall professional appearance. We make sure to dress appropriately for our job, don’t we? So we must also make sure to speak in a similarly appropriate way. Professional attire, whether it’s business-casual, a suit, uniform, etc., is used to minimize distractions, place everyone on equal ground, and maintain a consistent, professional image of ourselves and the company. Professional language is used in very much the same way. So even though your colleague might be your “homie” outside of work, referring to him in such a way while on the job is actually like going into the office wearing “homeboy” attire.

What’s rank got to do with it?
Another common problem with pet names in the workplace is when it comes to rank and age. Some higher ranking boss types, or those dealing with younger colleagues, think that it’s OK to refer to underlings as “kid” or “sweetie.” It’s not. This is a prime example of pet names being used in a condescending and even patronizing manner, which is not at all helpful and certainly not cute. If you consider yourself higher up on the office food chain due to designation or age, don’t take advantage of that position by talking down to subordinates. Respectfulness is one of the greatest qualities of a successful leader. People have names; use them.

You don’t know me
We don’t want to give off the impression that we’re totally against pet names. We love being someone’s “honey” or “babe,” but only in the right context. That right context, of course, is not at work, and not amongst strangers. When working with the public or meeting new clients, it can sound very presumptuous to refer to someone you don’t know as “darling” or “dude,” and can create uncomfortable and unprofessional working relationships. Pet name references should be kept very separate from any new and/or professional meetings, reserved only for best buds, significant others, close family… or actual pets!

Get real
So perhaps you are a YP who is guilty of this habit. You may have thought it was totally innocent up until now, and surely had nothing but good intentions. Now you want to make a change. The good news is that your pet name habit can actually be transformed into something very useful. You are already someone who engages with others in a very personal way, you just need to swap out those pet names for real names. People love hearing their own name, and by using it often you can also help yourself remember it. Check out this past Notable article to find out more about just how powerful it can be to refer to someone by their real name.

Cover image courtesy Office Space