WTF? Swearing at Work: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: NULL

When it comes to colorful language at work, on one end of the spectrum there's the timid colleague who gives up the occasional "Darn!" and, on the other, there's the over-the-top constant curser who's probably got a trip to HR in his future.

But sometimes, things are not be so black and white. That's why knowing the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly can save your ears -- and possibly your job. Here's how...

Team Work: The Good

Teams that can freely express themselves may build stronger ties. For example, when emotions run high, overlooking a "freakin'" here and a "What the..." there might be a small price to pay for a manager to keep everyone "spirited."

An intuitive leader knows that if his or her workers are to feel at ease that might include their going easy themselves, no big deal.

Team Work: The Bad

Once a precedent is set, it is hard to reverse. Letting team members "emote" among themselves is one thing, but there is no excuse for such permissive language in front of customers or upper management.

Ironically, and behind closed doors no doubt, the manager responsible for allowing such indiscretions will get cussed out and probably thrown out too. I've seen it happen, I swear. 

Team Work: The Ugly

Managers who feel they can use foul language because they are in a position of authority, beware.

CEOs who think their cursing has no impact on morale are as delusional as their chiefs and VPs who adopt an abrasive style without realizing the vulgar culture they have created turns everyone off -- permanently.

Freedom of Speech: The Good

Even if it is their constitutional right, responsible people will refrain from dropping F-bombs when they reach the point at which even a saint might explode.

Sure, we all have to let off steam once in a while, but who does it really hurt when you blow your stack? When it comes to "hot under the collar" or "scream and holler," the best among us exercise free speech by saying nothing that would add insult to injury.

Freedom of Speech: The Bad

As it happens, the First Amendment does not apply to workers in the private sector. While it would be in the employer’s best interest not to penalize a worker for the use of “everyday vernacular,” an employee who is summarily dismissed for being uncouth would have little recourse under the law.

Ironically, if it did ever make it to court, both parties would have to be sworn in! Go figure.

Freedom of Speech: The Ugly

Given the choice between facing a disgruntled, gun-toting employee and an enraged worker given to cursing up a storm, picking the lesser of two evils doesn't make the situation acceptable. Workplace violence doesn't have to be life-threatening to be unendurable. Being screamed at is not okay.

On the other hand, telling a loose cannon to "blankety-blank" could be therapeutic, and easily forgiven.

Stress Busting: The Good

Studies suggest that venting in the workplace can be a good thing. Now that swearing is popularized in the media, commonplace in schools and at bus stops, and not just reserved for occasional outbursts, refraining from an expletive or two when your computer freezes up, resulting in hours of work lost, might lead to greater stress than is necessary.

Don't internalize your anger, let it rip!

Stress Busting: The Bad

Someone who starts every other word with an "F" or an "S" may be exhibiting symptoms of a more profound problem than workplace stress. Thinking that swearing around the water cooler builds camaraderie is another symptom of delusion.

When a worker's bad language becomes an issue for disciplinary action, it's only going to add to any stress. For shame!

Stress Busting: The Ugly

When the ears of the moderate majority are so assaulted by the unchecked cursing of foul-mouthed co-workers that their vociferous complaints themselves include a curse or two, watch out!

At this point, “Damned if I do or damned if I don’t” is well and truly an indictment for a management that should have tuned in before their workforce checked out. Having everyone unhappy, now that really sucks.

Swearing at Work: The Next-to-Last Word

There may be some truth in the studies that suggest swearing at work can have a positive effect. Enabling clearer communication, having co-workers relate, and relieving stress are all good things.

But, when swearing becomes acceptable and commonplace, any good that could come from liberal management is soon undone.

Swearing at Work: The Last Word

For you, play it safe. If it doesn't work and it has ticked you off, cussing out an inanimate object will rarely lead to complaints.

Direct that language at another human being and you're on your own. Better to bite your tongue now than eat your heart out later.

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