Swearing in the workplace: is it ever a good idea?Article added by Jeffery Hoyle on April 12, 2013
Jeffery Hoyle

Jeffery Hoyle

Denver, CO

Joined: August 21, 2010

Is it ever a good idea to use swear words in front of staff in the workplace? Sensibility says no, as tempting as it can be.

I had lunch with a colleague a few weeks back where we shared war stories about our clients. While much of the conversation was about the normal stuff — procrastination, indecision, frugality — she laid something on me that caught me off guard. After more than a decade in this business, I was floored by her question.

“Have you ever dealt with a client who swears at everyone?”

I could honestly say I had not. I mean, the occasional expletive slips out once in a while, but to hear her describe it, her client would often let loose with a string of expletives in front of his staff that would shock a sailor. Which got us thinking, when, if ever, is it appropriate to swear at work?

Now, we have all been there — a stressful day, the phones ringing, the computer malfunctions, and the inability to seemingly get anything done. You know that place where if one more thing pops up, the delicate balance that is your sanity will be broken into a million little pieces.

And then it happens — that one more thing. Something inside you snaps, and from somewhere deep within you comes some of the foulest language you could imagine. It happens, right? Well, it does to me, on a semi-regular basis. But the difference is this: I work in an office alone. No one else had to bear the brunt of my vocalization of frustrations. And that’s the way it should be. Some things are just better left for when you are alone.

There is also that “good old boy” network, which likes to interject a few words to spice up the conversation. What’s the harm among the boys, right? Well, considering the ratio of women in the workplace today. To be politically correct that “good old boy” network would have to be amended to a “good old person” network, a statement which comes with its own set of issues. (Who wants to be referred to as old anyway?) Plus, there is that little faction in most businesses called human resources, which really frowns on the use of language that could potentially offend anyone in the workplace.

So, it raises the question: Is it ever a good idea to use swear words in front of staff in the workplace? Sensibility says no, as tempting as it can be. When I pressed my colleague for more details, she was more than happy to explain it to me as her client had explained it to her. So brace yourself; this rationale is a lulu.
“He says it helps to motivate his employees,” she said. “He says that it keeps them on their toes, and makes them more aware of their work and subsequently, more effective employees.”

In short, he uses it to scare his employees into compliance. What was that number for HR again?

Look, we all want a more effective and productive work environment. But statistically, happy employees are more productive than those cowering in their boots. I was flabbergasted that this was how this individual chose to run his ship. I just wonder if he is aware of how close he is to having a mutiny on his hands. No one enjoys being browbeaten, and like the ticking of a time bomb, an explosion is inevitable.

So, we have covered swearing as a way of fitting in, and as a means of motivation. Convinced that it has a place in the workforce yet? Me neither. And I am not sure if I will ever drink the Kool-Aid on that one.

The bottom line is this: Keep the expletives out of the workplace, period, unless you are alone behind the closed doors of your office, or even in a rest room stall. In that case, let loose, and swear till your heart’s content. The only delicate ears you are bound to offend are your own.
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