Do you swear at work? Yes or No?

Last month, I ran an informal poll on LinkedIn, asking “Do you swear at work?”  I was surprised to find out that 63% of people said no, they do NOT swear at work and 37% said YES they do.

And then, there was a comment from one of my friends:  F*** Yes. 

So apparently only a third of us ever do.

But is it ever OK to swear at work?  That’s what I set out to explore in episode 149 of Talk About Talk.

Last week, we covered myths about profanity.  This week, I’m looking at what the research suggests are some of the pros and cons of swearing at work. 

 

3 Things to Talk About this week: 

  1. Pros of Swearing
  2. Cons of Swearing
  3. Swearing Linguistics

 


1️⃣ Pros of swearing

Talk About Talk - Pros and Cons of Swearing - clear board with pros and cons written on it with a green checkmark under pros - image from Canva

As I said last week, there is no singular answer to whether it’s OK to swear at work,  However, research shows that there are some definite pros and cons.  

Here are 4 “pros”:

  • Establishing a positive culture – In the workplace, an authoritative culture could include an all out ban on all profanity. Employees may equate some level of profanity in the workplace with a more permissive and fun culture. 
  • Social bonding – Positive outcomes of swearing at the group level include an increased sense of belonging, mutual trust, group affiliation, bonding, cohesion, and solidarity. In subgroups at work, language varies.  For example, warehouse workers speak differently than the front office workers, who speak differently than the senior executives, signaling group membership.
  • Stress relief – Swearing can feel cathartic. Extremely emotional and stressful work causes the need to let off steam; often with profanity.  I recently had a conversation with a firefighter who says this is par for the course with his colleagues.
  • Identity formation – We see how, at an interpersonal level, swearing and profanity are sometimes used to emphasize an important point or to establish a sense of urgency. People also use profanity to convey authority, especially when they feel power is imbalanced. Interestingly, the research indicates men swear less, and women swear more in mixed company.  It’s like they’re accommodating the other with their language, in order to gain approval. Talk about identity formation!

 


2️⃣ Cons of swearing

Talk About Talk - Pros and Cons of Swearing - clear board with pros and cons written on it with a red X under cons- image from Canva

And, on the other hand, we have the “cons”.

  • Even though the myth is false, many people will assume you have a weaker vocabulary if you resort to using profanity.  
  • Other negative outcomes include a lack of respect, a lack of leadership skills, or even a lack of control.
  • Swearing can create conflict and stress, despite research showing it can sometime also relieve stress. 
  • Research also indicates that even if profanity is not directed at someone and not personally abusive, it is often still offensive. But if it IS directed at someone, they’ll certainly be less motivated or even, in extreme cases bring a lawsuit against the organization. One personal assistant sued for constructive dismissal – and won – after her manager told her she was being “an intolerable b****”. 

Here’s where I stand. Certainly in most cases, in particular in the presence of customers or clients, I think profanity should be discouraged. I’ll save it for the rare occasions when I need it.


3️⃣ Swearing linguistics

Talk About Talk - Pros and Cons of Swearing - woman at her computer throwing her hands up in frustration - image from Canva

Did you know that words without hard consonants seem less offensive than words with sharper sounds? 

Here’s a fun fact:

“When Douglas Adams’s U.S. publisher asked him to substitute something less offensive for the f-word in his novel Life, the Universe, and Everything (one of the sequels to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Adams made a cheeky decision to swap in the name of an entire country with a reputation for maintaining a diplomatic middle ground.

A new linguistic analysis suggests that the choice Adams made—substituting in the word “Belgium” at every instance—may unconsciously have reflected a cross-language pattern of using certain consonant sounds to soften “taboo” words.”

 –  Emily Willingham, “The Linguistics of Swearing Explain Why We Substitute Darn for Damn”, Scientific American, December 2022

 

Read the full article.

 


There you go – 3 things to Talk About this week:

1️⃣ Pros of swearing

2️⃣ Cons of swearing

3️⃣ Swearing linguistics

The current Talk About Talk podcast ep. 149, goes into a lot more detail about the fascinating things I learned in my research on profanity.  You can listen to it on AppleSpotifyYouTube, or wherever you find your favourite podcasts.

As always, I love to hear from you. Email me or message me on LinkedIn anytime.
 

Talk soon,