Profanity in the workplace may be considered taboo at most companies, but a new British study shows that office expletives might actually help boost morale.
Swearing can help develop and maintain solidarity among workers, as well as relieve stress, according to the study conducted by researchers at the University of East Anglia, based in Norwich, England.
"Employees use swearing on a continuous basis, but not necessarily in a negative, abusive manner," said Yehuda Baruch, a professor at the university's Norwich Business School and one of the directors of the study.
Baruch was particularly interested in the findings from a management perspective.
"We hope that this study will serve not only to acknowledge the part that swearing plays in our work and our lives, but also to indicate that leaders sometimes need to think differently and be open to intriguing ideas," Baruch said. "The primary issue for management is whether or not to apply a tolerant leadership culture to the workplace and deliberately allow swearing."
While Baruch maintained that swearing could have a positive impact in the workplace, he also warned against allowing profanity in front of customers and senior staff, adding that it should be banned if anybody is offended.
However, some experts were skeptical of the study whose participants, Baruch conceded, were "quite young."
According to Robert Perkins, president of Corporate Psychology, an Atlanta-based management consulting firm, some employees could be offended by office cursing, but not feel comfortable speaking out against the group.
"That kind of behavior intimidates people and violates their space," Perkins said.
Still, banning profanity also could backfire, Baruch said. "Managers need to understand how their staff feel about swearing," he said. "The challenge is to master the 'art' of knowing when to turn a blind eye."
The results of the study, "Swearing at Work and Permissive Leadership Culture: When Antisocial Becomes Social and Incivility Is Acceptable," appear in the current issue of the Leadership and Organizational Development Journal.