First, as a disclaimer, this is a generalization of why code-switching in the workplace happens. Second, not all code-switching is the same; code-switching varies throughout cultures, ethnicities, genders, generations, and classes. Everyone, at one time or another, has pulled the code-switch‚Äìthe reasons why it happens are what makes this process so trying and draining on those who live in duality.
But let‚Äôs pump the brakes here for a minute and dig into this.
What is Code-Switching?
Code-switching is the style in which people change their language (or behavior) based on their environments. It is the ability to shift between alternate ways of communicating.
The official definition, as cited by Britannica, describes code-switching as:
‚Äúthe practice of moving back and forth between two languages or between two dialects or registers of the same language at one time. Code-switching occurs far more often in conversation than in writing. It is also called code-mixing and style shifting.‚Äù
Code-switching can be detrimental to the psyche because it stifles a person‚Äôs ability to be genuine and themselves, which in turn can decrease self-love, confidence, and creativity. To those who have to pull the switch continuously, it‚Äôs no longer something that just absent-mindedly happens; it‚Äôs a way of life, a survival mechanism that automatically turns on like an emergency exit sign when the lights go out.
It is a tool for those looking at social mobility, but for some more than others, it‚Äôs a vital tactic you must possess to go about daily life.
Why is something so exhausting, so essential?
Simply put, although millennials make up about 35% of the workforce, we don‚Äôt hold a lot of top-level management positions, and for that matter nor do we make up a large part of middle management positions. Because of this, millennials are forced to adapt to what those above us want and expect‚ÄìAKA check your Gen Y vernacular at the door.
These are 4 Big Reasons Why Code-Switching Happens
- We want to get in where we don‚Äôt fit in: Let‚Äôs face it, we‚Äôve all had a job or workplace where we didn‚Äôt fit in. Whether it was because you were the youngest on your team, the only female or minority, or someone with less experience, code-switching likely helped you relate to your team to show them that, although you‚Äôre different, you can hang with the rest of squad. It‚Äôs an attempt to show solidarity and relatability.
- It‚Äôs required: Calling it a requirement sounds harsh, but it is just that. Having Gen Xers as managers or superiors usually means that 98% of the time you have to assess and adjust to their communication style, because, let‚Äôs face it most won‚Äôt adapt to yours. This directly affects the way you speak to them, how you end an email, or even how you conduct meetings. A slip of a word or a misplaced comma could rub someone the wrong way, and code-switching is a foolproof way to avoid that.
- Explain our thoughts: Unfortunately, we can‚Äôt always explain to someone how much they suck or how much we don‚Äôt care for something they‚Äôre doing. Rewording certain sentences or phrases to a style those you‚Äôre addressing will understand is the ultimate example of code-switching.
For example: ‚ÄúHope this helps‚Äù translates to, ‚ÄúRead this and stop bothering me.‚Äù
- Self-preservation, self-defense, and survival: Millennials have so many barriers that we have to overcome (*cough, cough* the recently popularized Gen X blame game), and, honestly, we‚Äôre just trying to make it in this world ‚Äì FYI ‚Äì we‚Äôre winging it, just like the generations before us. We have been conditioned to adapt to the world around us until we can change it. This includes how we function when we are in our workplaces, out with our friends, and even at home. We have to confine ourselves to ‚Äúacceptable standards‚Äù or expectations that are laid out for us. In most cases, it‚Äôs either do it and shut up, or don‚Äôt and leave/get fired‚Äìsomething we see daily.
Our fight or flight response automatically kicks in and we go into code-switching mode as a way to protect ourselves from the same fate.
The reasons that millennials code-switch, of course, are far more vast and complicated than those listed above. They can also vary depending on your day-to-day life, job, and natural born personality. No matter who you are, you‚Äôve either done it or have had someone do it to you. Understanding why it happens and the context in which it occurs will allow you to handle communications better.
Have fun deciphering!