In a single workday, how many messages do you send through the internet? If you’re working in an office, the number must be a lot. It seems, though, that in a recent investigation on the subtle linguistic word choices an employee uses can cue the hidden intentions an employee may or may not have.
Notably, when an employee starts ending his emails with “Best regards,” instead of their usual “Talk soon!,” and when he starts talking more individually, rather than collectively as a company, it might just hint at his underlying intentions to jump ship in the near future.
In the experiment, an office environment was simulated, which included a number of employees, and work behavior was monitored. Then, what happened was that the researchers started anonymously contacting the employees via email. At first as co-workers, and towards the afternoon, some of them were emailed to leak information out of the system in exchange for some money.
Once some of them agreed to be in on the job, the researchers noticed that the choice of language used in their correspondence also changed. It seemed that they started using singular pronouns, as opposed to more corporate pronouns, showing a greater focus and interest on themselves. This suggested at their orientation for themselves, and a separation from their company when working as an insider as well.
In a real world setting, when these subtle changes in the way language is used is recorded, it can be easily utilized by HR to either motivate or terminate employees that they demonstrate this certain behavior, potentially cutting costs from the bad apples, and exchanging them for newer, good apples.
In other applications, your linguistic footprint might just lead to how easily you are identified on the internet. This means that based on how you write on the internet, comments, blogs, or just about any sort of writing left on the internet can be easily traced back to you. For some, this might be alarming, as it takes away the anonymous-part of the internet. However, this has some more practical, and more security- ensuring uses as well.
A 40-year old posing as an 18-year old might not be able to get away with it so easily anymore, especially when the linguistic pattern of teenagers are easily examined.
Language might also be able to increase our security measures online, but that is a completely different article in itself. However, the lesson we might be able to learn from all of this is this: watch your language on the internet. You don’t know how much can be traced back to you.