September 7, 2012
What the #@!%* is wrong with workplace swearing?
We all know someone guilty of it. Every workplace has one. Some do it well; others seem addicted. And then there are those of us who want to try it but are just too darn timid -- or smart.
I’m talking, of course, about the office cusser. The resident potty mouth. The employee whose favorite word rhymes with duck.
Is swearing on the job ever appropriate? A CareerBuilder study conducted this spring found that a proclivity for profanity can get you into deep, uh, you-know-what. Eighty-one percent of employers believe that the use of curse words brings an employee’s professionalism into question, according to the survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers and 3,800 workers across industries and company sizes.
It’s not just your image that could be affected, but your paycheck as well: 57 percent of employers polled said they’d be less likely to promote someone who swears in the office.
Workers in some industries seem more inclined to be loose with the language -- truckers, emergency-room doctors and journalists are all rumored to be guilty of more than a little cussing. The Internet is blanketed with video clips of television news reporters who forgot to turn off their mics before unleashing curse-laced tirades.
And there are reports of politicians who suffer from slips of the tongue -- as when Vice President Joe Biden was heard using the F-word on live television in a whispered congratulations to President Barack Obama at the signing of his health-care bill in 2010.
Whatever the excuse -- stress, high pressure, a “creative” environment -- swearing is never appropriate (including via email and text) and always shows a lack of class, says Arden Clise, a business-etiquette consultant and president of Clise Etiquette, based in Seattle.
“Profanity is unprofessional and crass, and can be offensive, even harassing, to others,” Clise says. “People need to be professionals in the workplace, and swearing does not a professional make.”
Co-workers of the office swearer should always feel like it’s OK to complain, she adds.
But what about double standards? According to the CareerBuilder survey, while many employers may think less of an employee who curses too much in the office, one in four employers admitted to swearing at their employees, and 28 percent of workers said they have sworn at co-workers.
“A co-worker of mine does it all the time, but it’s targeted swearing -- only when she wants to punctuate an important point or get people’s attention around an issue, and never direct swearing at a supervisor,” says a project manager at Microsoft who asked not to be named. “It’s a little harsh for the rest of us to have to hear, but I think it earns her respect.”
It seems there’s something to that. Researchers at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom found in a study that swearing actually helped co-workers build relationships with one another and enabled them to express their feelings. That finding joins a body of psychology that frames swearing as a congenial tool that can enhance work solidarity, according to a March story on BusinessInsider.com.
So what the (bleep) to do?
Use your own judgment. When in doubt, perhaps take the standard approach of politicians and TV news anchors alike: If you have to, cuss first and apologize later.
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