Leadership

Workplace profanity boosts morale


Profanity can boost morale, according to a new British study, published in the current issue of the Leadership and Organization Development Journal, called "Swearing at work and permissive leadership culture: When anti-social becomes social and incivility is acceptable."

Couple of points about this: A) Is that the longest title of a study you've ever heard of or what? and B) If they're counting words muttered under the breath, I have the potential to be the happiest person on the face of the earth.

According to the study, "frequent swearing can reinforce solidarity among staff and enable them to express their feelings, such as frustration, and develop social relationships." I guess until you turn to the person in the cubicle next to you and call her a $%$$#%. Then morale kind of plummets, at least for one person.

And I'm not extremely familiar with British law, but in the U.S. you can bleep your way to the highest realms of good morale...until one person finds it unacceptable and takes you and your potty mouth to court for creating a hostile work environment.

The press release on the study did quote a Professor Yehuda Baruch as saying that abusive and offensive swearing "should be eliminated where it generates greater levels of stress, rather than helping to relieve it." How exactly you're supposed to determine that I'm not sure.

Baruch admitted that finding that "happy medium" is a tough proposition for supervisors. "Managers need to understand how their staff feel about swearing. The challenge is to master the art of knowing when to turn a blind eye to communication that does not meet their own standards."

Really and truly, I don't think if I were the head of a company, I would trust anyone to successfully learn that "art."

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

165 comments
haYnguy
haYnguy

Actually, it's perfectly legal to relate workplace profanity to smoking. There are many companies that have employees who smoke. Smoking relieves stress for those smokers. It allows them to refresh themselves and gives them a few moments to collect themselves. Profanity could do to people who don't smoke what cigarettes do to people who do smoke. The only difference is that you don't necessarily spend 10-15minutes swearing! Although both means provide some sort of way to let out stress and raise morale, some people cannot tolerate either one or the other. I'm not obligated to say which morale booster is correct, cigarettes can kill, and nobody appreciates overhearing profanities being used. But, in cost effectiveness, I believe profanity would be the best morale booster. Smoking not only takes time out of a workday that could be used for the companies sake, but the employees just might contract cancer, die, etc. I understand people don't like profanities, but honestly, it may not be hard to assimilate. You just might get so tired of it, you utter one yourself! Besides, words should not offend people. They are just words, nothing more. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" sound familiar?

XT John
XT John

I worked with a fellow, who grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He spent a stint in jail, before getting on the straight and narrow. What always impressed me about him, besides the major turn anround in his life was his lack of using profainty. I had to ask him at lunch one day for his secret. He was sent to parochial school in Little Italy. Of course, hormones, attitudes, language was running wild. One morning, the good Sister wrote something on the blackboard that stayed up all year; and it was the end of profanity in her classroom. She wrote: "Profanity is a STRONG way to express a WEAK mind" I have a printed out copy hanging in my cubicle;)

palee
palee

"Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer." - Mark Twain

knucklhead
knucklhead

Yea or Nay, the article just hit my desk and look at all of the responses out there. I fondly remember my Navy days when venting was much easier. There was a certain strong visceral relief felt and I could more quickly recover to concentrate on the task at hand.

vincent.fong
vincent.fong

Profanity, whether we like it or not is part of the everyday verbal diet that we take in from others and spit out, mostly without a second thought to ourselves. To curb profanity is almost like telling a child not to instintively play when that is second nature to them (and us). Prudish people of the "old ways" should realise that the world is getting smaller and social networks are intensifying everyday. Controlling how people talk or react to situations is not only demeaning and generally insulting their intelligence. Being seen to be doing it is smacks of "Hitlerian" virtues. Keep your prudishness to yourself I'd say and let people just be people whether they swear or not. This is the 21st Century not the 1780's. We get used to "noise" so we can get used to profanity. As the old saying goes, "sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words can't hurt me".

glandry_z
glandry_z

Maybe because the laws are so different in Britain, I was shocked that there was no discussion of the "hostile work environment" or "workplace harassment" aspects of tolerating this type of behavior. As a manager, if an employee complains, I am obligated to take action to put a stop to the offending behavior. We've got a strict zero-tolerance approach for anything perceived threatening or sexual in nature. No four-letter anglo-saxon references to sexual acts or female canines.

tracyle
tracyle

This is such a great discussion. I am an Emergency Department nurse. I have never sworn as much as when I worked in an inner city ED. The whole thing about being offended was never an issue. It's sorta "enlightening" having this sweet-looking, little nurse launch a few f-bombs in the heat of things. While at work today, every time someone used a curse word I said, "Wow, I feel my morale improving." It caught on and became the joke of the day. I know it has made the rounds via email. For those of you who curse, F'in-A!!! For those of you who don't, we'll all say "earmuffs" (Old School reference) to let you know when we are about to start...

Tig2
Tig2

I have a hard time seeing how being a potty mouth is a positive distinguishing factor... or a morale booster of any kind. I have had co-workers use the odd curse. In general the infrequent slip is largely ignored. I can't say that I have ever seen anyone that habitually cursed in the workplace. I think that when you are in your "professional" environment, it behooves you to act professionally. I don't see that as dropping the f-bomb every chance you get. My strong preference is to not hear it. But I don't worry about it if I do. Ten years of being married to a sailor taught me to ignore a lot of things. Edit- typo

mikifin
mikifin

I encourage it where ever I find it in my peers because it usually badly backfires on them clearing the way for my advancement.

don.gulledge
don.gulledge

My father the preacher, used to say that those who use profanity suffer from a lack of creativity. Yet, at the same time he'd replace F**K with "Bologna", or "My aching back". Seems like he was just substituting one word for another. Having done the military route, I found my speech pattern lacked a certain creativity in it because I'd gotten into the cussing habit. My son had water behind the eardrums, his first words were garbled except for the DAMN. The only word he could hear clearly. I don't see a religious, or moral reason to eliminate cussing, but I think there is appropriate venues for it and ones that are not. I think the workplace (or a church for those that do) are not the proper places to have a lot of cussing, no matter if it's the boss or otherwise. The one thing I loved about M*A*S*H was their ability to convey or propose an idea without having to say it in a street-wise fashion. The one thing I really hate is to talk with someone that has to include a "Fu**ing" this or that in every sentence. I think as creative minds, that we would want to avoid use of cussing except only in the company of others that we know they are with us like at Boot Camp.

DS in Buffalo
DS in Buffalo

OK, I throw out an occasional colorful word, but come on, please come up with some better topics - a civilized society shouldn't even have to justify the benefits of decency. I'll all but guarantee this study was someone's personal conclusion looking for some evidence - regardless of how slanted the questions needed to be.... I've worked with my share of f-bombers - not impressed and not bonded.

Matureman
Matureman

that in the climate of today's P.C. workplace, I can be hauled before my superiors for telling a fellow worker that she "looks pretty today" or forget and leave a Bible on my desk, etc., but the office will let or might encourage me to use foul language, swear, or cuss a blue streak because I'm building morale. Now, does that seem out of whack?

DigitalFrog
DigitalFrog

It was originally "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but NAMES will never hurt me" but either way, just do a google search on the phrase "Sticks and stones may break my bones" and you will see just how much that saying has been refuted. If you want to battle cliches, how about "The pen is mightier than the sword" - words can wound more deeply than physical actions.

DigitalFrog
DigitalFrog

Quote: "Profanity, whether we like it or not is part of the everyday verbal diet that we take in from others and spit out, mostly without a second thought to ourselves" Personally, I prefer to think before I speak. "The world is getting smaller" is a lame excuse for sloppy language. Just because something is new does not validate its superiority over existing values. Go ahead and drink the purple koolaid with the rest, I still maintain that there are some moral values worth preserving.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

Leave it to one overly sensitive dipsh*t to make an issue of someone cursing. Yes, there's a difference between actually harrassing someone by cursing at them directly or making sexual comments and such, but when one is frustrated at a broken printer and yelling every profanity there is at at inanimate object, why should anyone else be offended? The printer is a machine, it has no feeling and will definitely not get upset or cry about it. Why should anyone else get offended? It reminds me of the psychopathic animal rights activists who make an issue of a lobster or chicken being thrown in a pot of boiling water because it has feeling and will feel the pain. Yes, but boo f****g hoo...it's food so get over it.

TtFH
TtFH

I find this discussion amusing. Americans (US) come across as so prissy when it comes to sex, swearing and imaginary friends. Maybe it's the litigious nature of your society. Maybe it's because everyone gets offended about something. I don't know. Then I watch some US movies, and they're full of violence, swearing and wild shootouts. A place of contradiction. Swearing doesn't hurt anyone - sticks and stones, fists and weapons hurt. Tony F

Absolutely
Absolutely

In other threads, US society has been criticized, by Aussies if I recall, for being too "litigious". I guess nobody's perfectly happy with all the rules, which probably means everybody has to compromise a fair amount, which is probably good.

mac
mac

That figures some clown from LOOOOOSSSIIIAANNNAAAA would mention dogs and sex in the same sentence.......hmmmm makes ya wonder?

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

I'm with you 100% on the earmuff expression. If someone doesn't like it, they have a choice to remove themselves from the so called "offending" environment by blocking out the sound or changing the channel. It's usually the ultra-conservative dipsh*ts who preach their bible crap and attempt to censor everyone else's speech. Who are they to dictate to us adults how we speak? If they want to live in a phony Mickey Mouse land, I suggest they all move to an island where cursing is punishable by death, but as long as they live with the rest of us, they should accept it or simply shut the f**k up!

Absolutely
Absolutely

I agree with Tig. When something important malfunctions, a naughty word is forgivable, and can even have the effect of underscoring the importance of setting things right, but not enough that any concerted effort to employ vulgarity would ever motivate me to improve my performance. Quite the opposite. In such a crisis situation, one expletive might have the effect of building camaraderie or morale or a sense of urgency, but only if it's an exception to the speaker's normal speech pattern.

leemond
leemond

It never ceases to amaze me how some people can get funding for these so-called "useful studies". I really honestly can't see the benefit to this. Perhaps it's the British backlash to all this political correctness malarkey which is getting on our nerves. Maybe this is just the thing we need to help us out with our base desire to be rude and offensive. "Ooh, you know that guy, the one who is height-challenged and has a hair dysfunction? What a t**t!"

Jessie
Jessie

All the P.C. rules should be tossed at the beaurocrats that made them up and we should get back to working with each other as if we liked something about each individual for the beautiful creation that they are, not for the potential lawsuit they represent.

t.rohner
t.rohner

at least we have this quote in german. It can be seen as a warning, if directed to humans. It may sound childish, if directed towards some hardware/software. But then, grown men like to ride rollercoasters. (I have to include myself here.)

vincent.fong
vincent.fong

To each his/her own but I certainly won't be too offended by somewhat who screams !@##$%! at me - at least I know where we both stand. The problem with your approach is: "Who's the smiling tiger?"

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

We all know those types, as they sound like the typical bible thumping Ned Flanders from the Simpsons. Where I work, we all openly curse and drop "f" bombs all the time, yet nobody ever gets offended because we're not using it to specifically offend anyone, as it's a typical part of our speech when we get so stressed out. It does help to vent off steam and rant about a particular issue or person, even if it means using every profanity laces phrase under the sun. To the dillweeds in the office who are offended by it, I say this..."Grow up and if you don't like it, you can go @#*%? yourself!" because the world doesn't cater to your Mickey Mouse world.

t.rohner
t.rohner

while watching the movie "Snatch" with Brad Pitt and others on our national TV station. Most of the time, they supply the original audio track, as well as the synchronized version. This was quite violent and foulmouthed, at least there were no s*x scenes ;-(. But then i'm not sure if it was a US or a UK movie. At least it played in the UK. It doesn't actually matter, there are enough US movies around that are much "worse" in terms of violence, s*x and foulmouthedness. I think it's ok to educate the kids without swearing, at least we have been, but it's a bit far out in my view to try to supress it by law. (Now it's what you say, tomorrow it may be what you think...)

t.rohner
t.rohner

while watching the movie "Snatch" with Brad Pitt and others on our national TV station. Most of the time, they supply the original audio track, as well as the synchronized version. This was quite violent and foulmouthed, at least there were no s*x scenes ;-(. But then i'm not sure if it was a US or a UK movie. At least it played in the UK. It doesn't actually matter, there are enough US movies around that are much "worse" in terms of violence, s*x and foulmouthedness. I think it's ok to educate the kids without swearing, at least we have been, but it's a bit far out in my view to try to supress it by law. (Now it's what you say, tomorrow it may be what you think...)

mac
mac

Thats a good point, the idiots in our country and the radicals are always trying to push there sense of morality on everybody else, but there kids are the ones smoking pot in school and they want to sue the school for lack of supervision then complain that 'uncle sam' is watching them to much. As a friend pointed out to me the other day if he doesn't like the way things are he can just leave, same as changing the channel on the t.v.. As I have pointed out at my work on a few occasions that it isn't what I say or you hear it, it is what your 'head' does with that information...so that makes you wonder who has the problem and who's mind is really in the gutter regardless of the intent of the speaker.

Matureman
Matureman

they don't have to say it out loud where others can hear it. This also applies to swearing in the workplace. I used to live in Baton Rouge. I'm thinking you would enjoy a visit to Louisiana some day. You would find lots of kind and thoughtful people, neighbors that visit and help each other and yes, they do have puppies there, too.

Absolutely
Absolutely

[i]That figures some clown from LOOOOOSSSIIIAANNNAAAA would mention dogs and sex in the same sentence.......hmmmm makes ya wonder?[/i] Actually, it didn't. I understood his intent to be that use of vulgar language is sub-human, and it's your message, not his, that I find vulgar.

Tig2
Tig2

That "clown" made a number of observations that were valid to the discussion. You didn't make a single one. The only thing I now wonder about is if the concentration of pollution in Morro Bay has reached the point where it's affecting the thinking out there. You might want to lighten up.

jdclyde
jdclyde

if it isn't directed towards YOU? Big difference between someone swearing [b]BY[/b] you, rather than [b]AT[/b] you.

t.rohner
t.rohner

in continental europe, they try to tell you that you need a higher education, if you don't want to end up as a working poor. I guess it's quite similar in other places. But then, what is a higher education. You have to look at the base, so everything that's above this average is higher. If i see "students" failing everyday tasks, what do you think they will be be doing once they have their doctors title. Doing studies for some obscure government agencies,that have mainly been installed to reduce the academics jobless rate. Studies that try to prove things, that come to your mind if you only give it one thought. But they did it scientifically with your tax Dollar (or Euro, Pound or Franc...) In this light, i want to curse if i feel the urge. I doesn't happen really often. But if i want to, i don't need some dudes telling me not to. Scientifically proven or not.

Absolutely
Absolutely

[i]...and we should get back to working with each other as if we liked something about each individual for the beautiful...[/i] What a repulsive idea.

mac
mac

See there is really a santa claus. GOD somebody finally got IT. Amen. There are more normal people out there.......as I havebeen fond of saying "your head is where"?

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

I've had people curse at me and I have cursed at others. In business, things can and do get crazy and people will tend to use profanity in the heat of the moment. One must grow a thick skin and not let it get personal. Those who are offended by it are the same little whiners who were the common "tattle-tales" in grade school and hid under mommy's skirt when something or someone scared them. They are now adults and still behaving like kids in an adult world. Hey Linus, time to grow the f**k up and put down that security blanket because it looks silly for a 40 year old.

DigitalFrog
DigitalFrog

I have never once indicated that government should control speech. I don't believe it should be necessary even to have the political correctness laws you keep ranting on about. People should be able to police themselves and have courtesy and respect for others. It is the failure of people like yourself to show that small amount of self control that have encouraged these types of laws to be enacted.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

because you sound like the typical fascist mindset of Germans during the third reich, in which they considered themselves the morality police of the time. Like I said before, if you don't like profanity, you are more than welcomes to remove yourself from the problem or put on a pair of earmuffs. Regarding customers, no I don't shake their hands and flip them off at the same time. It's when they don't pay their invoices on time that I flip them off.

DigitalFrog
DigitalFrog

for the old saying from a much more mature and polite age: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

for cursing in public and punish you by nailing you to a wooden cross. Oh wait, I forgot this is not Nazi Germany or Spain during the inquisition. Reality check please!

jdclyde
jdclyde

because that was his first thought.... ;\

Absolutely
Absolutely

$&!+head? In other words, yes & no: when somebody annoys me, it's enjoyable to commiserate with others who are similarly annoyed, but not to do so for as long as gripe sessions tend to last.

jdclyde
jdclyde

is sure brightened up MY day...... B-) Other than that, this whole "study" is just a bunch of BS, IMO. Someone swearing in the office does not boost my morale, and if it is directed TOWARDS me, it will just escalate from there as I have never been anyones punching bag, verbally or otherwise. Side note, if you are with a group going on about how much someone is an F'en tool because of XYZ, maybe it can have an upside?

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

See...who said I'm a bad guy? Everyone likes me...LOL!

Absolutely
Absolutely

I prefer to do my work than to waste time forming personal opinions of my co-workers. That is not part of my job.

DigitalFrog
DigitalFrog

Kudos on your positive outlook, I wish more had it.

jdclyde
jdclyde

Some believe EVERYONE has good in them. I am not such an individual. Last week in Saginaw Michigan, a 15 year old shot four people, his intended target shot in the neck and may never walk again, the rest were just "missed" shots. It blows my mind that there is even THOUGHT to charge this 15 year old as a minor, meaning he would go free when he turns 21.

Jessie
Jessie

Liking SOMETHING about an individual is NOT the same thing as liking the individual. I don't have to like a person at all in order to find one little thing about each person that I can respect/like, and I keep that one thing in mind whenever I'm forced to deal with that person. Go ahead, call me PollyAnna, but it's how my world works best.

Absolutely
Absolutely

with some good to see. Just because I have standards doesn't mean I don't see the good in people that actually have some good in them.

jdclyde
jdclyde

that DO see something good in other people. Who would have thought it, huh? ;\

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