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COMPANY CULTURE

F@#%! Is Swearing in the Office Okay?

Use these three tips to determine when swearing in the workplace is okay and when it is a no way.

Take a stroll around some offices these days and you might hear certain words that would've sent employees packing back in the day. I'm talking about those colorful four-letter words that used to be forbidden or frowned upon in professional settings. Nowadays, swearing in the workplace has become a bit more mainstream in certain industries. (Emphasis on the "in certain industries" part.) I've got to admit, I don't really mind.

Before you start thinking that I'm some inappropriate CEO that goes around swearing like a sailor, let me clarify: I just happen to be pretty casual in almost everything I do, including my language.

So when is swearing in the workplace okay and when is it a no way?

Your Culture Sets the Tone

At my online direct marketing company, VerticalResponse, we have a very casual environment. Our dress code is more hoodies and jeans versus suits and ties. We've got a table tennis set-up sitting alongside a conference table next to a fridge filled with beer and a table of organic fruit. We believe that the unique qualities and differences our employees bring to the workplace are what makes our team the diverse and valuable one that it is. We want everyone to know that they are valued and should feel comfortable every day they come to work.

If you've got a casual work culture and environment where people are keeping it real and can show off their personalities, then a little swearing now and then might be A-okay. But if you've got a more old-school, traditional business environment, or are interacting with the public or customers, then you probably should steer clear. It really comes down to ensuring everyone is comfortable.

Use Your Words Wisely

As children we're often taught to "use our words," and as I mentioned, I don't swear at the office out of anger or frustration (okay, maybe once in awhile behind closed doors). But if I start peppering a friendly conversation with a couple of salty adjectives then you can bet I'm pretty comfortable around you. And likewise, if I'm having a great chat with someone and they drop an F-bomb and that's how they normally talk, then no harm done.

Intention is key here. If swearing is just part of the conversation, then to me it's okay; however, if I hear a boss berating one of their direct reports with expletives, then that crosses over into "no way" territory. 

Who's Cursing Anyway?

According to a CareerBuilder survey, "over half of workers (51 percent) admitted to swearing in the office. Of that group, 95 percent said they do so in front of their co-workers, while 51 percent cuss in front of the boss. Only 13 percent of workers who say they use curse words in the office have done it in front of senior leaders and 7 percent have done it in front of their clients. The survey also indicated that men are more likely to swear at work than women--although not by much: 54 percent of men versus 47 percent of women."

The study also indicated that employers may be inclined to think less of an employee who swears at work for a variety of reasons. "Most (81 percent) believe that the use of curse words brings the employee's professionalism into question. Others are concerned with the lack of control (71 percent) and lack of maturity (68 percent) demonstrated by swearing at work, while 54 percent said swearing at work makes an employee appear less intelligent."

For me, I actually respect folks who say it like it is because it's all part of my company's casual work environment. But again, what works for my company may not be appropriate at yours; it all boils down to your office culture, your job and your intention.

So, what are your thoughts on colorful language in the workplace? Is it an okay or no way for you?

Did you enjoy this post? If so, sign up for the free VR Buzz weekly newsletter and check out the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

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Last updated: Jun 3, 2013

JANINE POPICK

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (a Deluxe company), a leading provider of self-service email and social media marketing tools for small businesses. The company was ranked No. 4,882 on the 2013 Inc. 5000. @janinepopick




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