What You Need to Know About Swearing in the Workplace

man shouting into phone

If you ask some, they view it to be impolite.

Others give it a pass because it’s a form of artistic expression.

It’s the first thing you’ll probably know when learning a new language (whether you like it or not), but most cultures seem to agree it’s something kids should never hear adults say. 

What is “it?” It’s profanity, of course. 

It’s so controversial even scientists decided to get to the bottom of it. And guess what they discovered?

Recent research has connected swearing to positive attributes like honesty and health advantages like pain alleviation. Are these connections genuine, or are these studies simply a bunch of nonsense?

And whether genuine or not, should “foul” language be welcomed in the workplace?

The science of cursing

This saying goes along the line of cursing as a sign of a weak mind and an even more vulnerable character.

It implies that using foul language is a way for people to compensate for their lack of intelligence and is a type of compensation.

The reverse is accurate, according to a 2015 study. The Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT) was used to test general fluency. In addition, taboo word fluency and animal word fluency were also examined.

Although the experiment may seem complicated, it isn’t. The test subject is instructed to list as many words as possible that begin with the examiner’s chosen letter. 

The assignment is next repeated, asking the subject to name all the expletives that start with that letter. The test taker is then instructed to list all the animals whose names begin with that letter.

But this science may not be as exact. For example, experts argue that correlation does not equal causation.

According to the adage “correlation does not equal causation,” one cannot infer cause and 

There is insufficient evidence to support a causal link between profanity and intelligence.

It’s also important to note that these studies examining the relationship between cursing and IQ aren’t assessing intelligence. The concept is too intricate to be determined by just one factor.

Most research on swearing combines vocabulary and intelligence. However, while having a large vocabulary may be a sign of intelligence, it is not the same thing. 

Being smart is much different from sounding smart. So perhaps it would be more realistic to argue that swearing shows a vast vocabulary.

Why do we even swear?

Recent advancements in brain science demonstrate that there are rational explanations behind a foul mouth.

As children, we learn that particular words are “forbidden” in polite conversation. They become part of our mental file system. 

As a result, using profanity eventually causes our hearts to beat more quickly and sets us up to have hostile thoughts.

There’s also something relieving about swearing, especially when you’ve trodden on something or banged your toe against a table leg. A steady stream of expletives momentarily distracts your brain from the pain.

When it comes to communication, a well-placed curse word can greatly enliven a statement. 

Want to put your opinions across? The plosive sharpness of some swear words, which may be delivered with an exclamation point and a dash of rage, will do the trick.

But it’s a different story when it comes to the workplace.

Should workplaces be “profanity-free” zones?

Swearing is a rather typical occurrence in today’s workplace. 

Employees vent their frustrations, get stressed about work-related issues, or feel pressured to meet deadlines. This is just a normal part of a routine workday. 

Although profanity is typically accepted in the office, when is it “too much” and when is it inappropriate? What should be the limit for employers?

It might be challenging to clearly identify what is appropriate and when disciplinary action is necessary, but using common sense should help avoid most problems when swearing at work. 

There is a big difference between general swearing to let off steam and being part of a physical or verbal attack, building an aggressive environment, making people uncomfortable, or being excessively obscene.

When the words are used as a weapon against a manager, coworker, or even the customers, that’s when you know swearing has gone too far.

1. Swearing can tarnish your brand

We are all in charge of building and maintaining our brands; therefore, your manager might be reluctant to put you in front of customers or have you represent the business if you come across as a hothead or someone who can’t control their emotions or words.

Others may avoid you or feel uneasy around you if they see you as having a potty mouth.

You should use appropriate language even when conversing with a coworker informally in the office.

2. Swearing in writing leaves a paper trail

Undoubtedly, there will inevitably be times when a foul word will be spoken. But refrain from using it in voicemails, texts, or emails that are linked to your job.

It has a paper trail; You might have sent the email to a coworker in jest, but suddenly it moves up the leadership chain, and the next thing you know, the vice president has the email with your name on it.

Reading a harsh word out loud can be worse because you lack the context provided by tone and body language. 

3. Swearing could go horribly wrong with an out-of-place context and an uneasy audience

The use of curse words at work isn’t always strictly forbidden.

Even poor language might come across as more casual and conversational, at least to the correct audience. But, on the other hand, it can also be a safe way to express strong feelings.

But again, always remember to use it sparingly. If you can avoid it altogether, the better.

A helpful comparison is drinking. You can opt to do it, true, but ultimately, it would be better for you and everyone else if you refrained from doing it too often.

To summarize

You’re going to use foul language at work inevitably. But unfortunately, it gets harder to restrain profanity as it becomes more prevalent in everyday conversation.

Yet, that does not imply that it needs to be welcomed or ingrained in the workplace culture.

A curse word may break the tension now and then, but consistent and positive communication improves the culture for everyone involved.

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Tricia Tan

Tricia Tan