Help! What Language Are My Gen Z Coworkers Speaking?

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Gen Z

Graduation season is in full swing, and soon the workforce will be flooded with young Gen Z workers. And these workers won’t only bring new skills and a fresh perspective to the workplace, but a new vocabulary as well. In fact, people of other generations are noticing Gen Z’s unique terms and phrases, leading to traction on social media and beyond.

Since a successful and functioning team relies on clear communication, it’s important to remain updated on the new terms and expressions that you might hear in the workplace. This will help avoid misunderstandings and improve teamwork. If you are not a member of Gen Z, here is a quick guide to some common terms you might hear your Gen Z peers using in and around the office.

  • Ate: This indicates that someone has done a really good job, usually in terms of an explanation.
    • Example: [Sally made really good points during a meeting as to why we should change a specific protocol]. “She ate in that meeting.”
    • Example: “Tim wanted to ignore Molly’s suggestions for the new project. Instead of just accepting it, Molly spoke up and explained why her suggestions would be beneficial to the project. She ate with that.”
  • Girl Math: While you did not learn this version of math in school, “Girl Math” references an unconventional thought process around expenses and arithmetic that is most often used to justify spending habits.
    • Example of Girl Math at work: “The office overpaid an invoice and we received a refund of $350. Therefore the company now has an extra $350 and we should do an office happy hour. Girl Math!”
  • Let ‘em cook: Far from a culinary reference, this term means to let the person be or to give them time. Oftentimes it is a way of telling someone to mind their business. This phrase can also appear as “I’m cooking” or “she’s cooking” to mean a person is getting the job done or that they are really in the zone on their task.
    • Example: A: “This new admin assistant we hired is organizing our files with some new system and it’s really annoying me.” B: “It’s getting done so just let him cook.”
    • Example: A: “Hey, do you want to join the team for lunch today?” B: “I can’t right now; I’m cooking.”
  • Math isn’t mathing: Used to indicate that something isn’t making sense or “adding up,” often said from a skeptical perspective.
    • Example: [Bob and Tammy have the same role. Tammy has worked at the company longer than Bob but she makes less than he does.] “The math isn’t mathing with these salaries.”
    • Example: “I was told by the manager that I was a shoo-in for the promotion and then they gave it to someone else. The math isn’t mathing.”
  • Messy: Mostly used for people who like to stir the pot or gossip.
    • Example: “Tommy is so messy. He told Sally what Diane said about her.” 
  • Out of pocket: This term traditionally referred to paying for something oneself, such as paying for work travel expenses “out of pocket,” which would later be reimbursed. It then took on the additional meaning of being unavailable or unreachable for a period of time. For Gen Z, however, “out of pocket” refers to a comment or action being inappropriate, insensitive, or otherwise unwarranted.
    • Example: “It was really out of pocket for Sarah to randomly mention her personal issues with Diane during our team meeting.”
    • Example: “Jimmy was telling us about his new music and how excited he is to be performing it this weekend, but Bob was really out of pocket to explicitly tell Jimmy that he doesn’t like his music and he won't be going.”
  • Rot/girl rot [trend]: This is a trend that refers to staying at home and doing nothing. If someone was “girl rotting” or simply “rotting,” it means they did nothing–think lying on the couch all weekend watching TV and eating unhealthy food or doom-scrolling through social media for hours.
    • Example: I just want to rot when I get home.
  • Say less: If someone says “say less” they are not telling you to stop talking; they are actually saying they understand what you are saying, and thus there is no need to explain further.
    • Example: [Tammy is giving you instructions on a task and you understand the task instructions] “Oh, say less.”
  • Sus: From “suspicious,” this abbreviated form is often used to describe something questionable, odd, or unusual.
    • Example: “It’s sus that Tommy’s status says he’s online but he isn’t answering anyone.”
  • Understood the assignment: Similar to “ate,” this expression is used to say someone did well, but usually when someone does more than is explicitly stated. It is not simply going above and beyond, but doing something unexpected or creative that others might not have considered doing.
    • Example: “We welcomed some potential business partners to the office yesterday to discuss a major deal that we desperately want to close. I asked Danny to keep them company for about 5 minutes until I could return. When I came back, he had them rolling on the floor in laughter. They were in such a great mood that we inked the deal within minutes. Danny understood the assignment!”

If you find that you and your Gen Z coworkers are consistently speaking past one another, it might be due to a lack of shared vocabulary. Understanding the terms above will help you better understand and connect with your Gen Z colleagues, who may feel anxious if they are new to the workforce. If nothing else, making the effort to understand their speech will help foster a more productive and inclusive workplace–and show that older generations can keep up with whatever Gen Z throws their way.