Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire

Do We Give a Sh!t About Swearing at Work?

Rules on bad language can and should differ by profession and workplace. Most workplaces maintain a “don’t do it” policy. For example, I would never swear in front of my boss. However, in a modern workplace, are the rules for professional conduct when it comes to bad language changing? Some studies show that swearing in the workplace isn’t such a bad thing. Beyond that, consider how the majority of your clients and employees feel about the occasional bleep-able at work: would you care if your co-workers started swearing openly? If you don’t care… does anyone else?

An article on Huffington Post last spring talked about a study showing that bad language in the workplace can actually promote solidarity among employees. While swearing might not be the most professional way to vent anger, it does release tension. The release of tension allows employees to deal more productively with stress in the modern workplace. The serious caveat to this discussion is that bad language should never be used as part of harassment or bullying.

While swearing among co-workers may not seem like that big of a deal, what about bad language in front of outside business partners? Clients? While swearing in front of these people might seem like walking through a professional mine field, people who have done studies on bad language and public speaking say otherwise.

In the modern workplace, being personable might trump being professional. A 2006 study asked college students to rank the persuasion and passion of speakers. Given speeches of similar tone and substance, the speakers who swore once during their speech scored higher marks. One expert says, “Swearing is a way of communicating that you are the most important person in the room.”

For certain kinds of sales and negotiation situations, this could be a useful tactic in a modern workplace. Swearing can also make you appear more relatable. I don’t pretend to know much about sales, but a sense of camaraderie can certainly go a long way toward good client relations.

Further, it is important to question how many people in a modern workplace really care about swearing. In a survey on CBC News, 75% of employees fell into the swearing “occasionally” or “loudly and frequently” categories. Fewer than 20% bothered to stifle their swearing (“rarely and under my breath”) and a mere 5% said that swearing wasn’t allowed at their workplace.

With these figures in mind, should companies have a bad language policy? Should modern workplaces openly endorse bad language? With quantifiable positive effects from swearing, and everybody doing it for the most part anyway, it appears that the occasional—or not so occasional—profanity can be a part of a professional workplace.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by stockicide

Kristin Anderson

Kristin has a B.A. in English from the University of Iowa, with an emphasis in creative writing. In her free time she enjoys long walks, kitchen adventures, and making puns.

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