HR Strange But True!
February 24, 2009

In the current climate and culture, has cursing at work become acceptable? No, gad durn it, says a new poll by

With all the swearing on reality shows, such as the interminable bleeping out of Hell's Kitchen chef Gordon Ramsey's remarks to his apprentices, and headline grabbing cursing by notables such as Rod Blagojevich, Alec Baldwin, and Christian Bale, writer Eve Tomincioglu looked into the status of cursing in the workplace.

In the poll, “When Is Cursing Acceptable at the Office,” 35.5 percent said “never,” 30.7 percent said “occasionally,: 18.2 percent said “very rarely,” but “15.6 percent answered, “at my office, all the time.”

Respondents seemed to acknowledge that while everyone is entitled to an occasional slip, constant cursing, even in high-pressure industries or companies having financial difficulties, is still a no-no.

Tomincioglu interviewed Dr. Yehuda Baruch, visiting professor at George Mason University, who has studied workplace swearing, who agrees that: “It's not nice, but there are some positive elements to it,” such as letting off steam or pent-up emotions caused by co-workers or customers.

And Ronald Humphrey, management professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, says that while a potty mouth isn't pleasant, “we have to look at the organizational culture” [the military, construction, Wall Street, etc.] in deciding whether swearing can hurt a career.

Yes, the economy has everyone on edge, yet respondents agreed that how and where the workplace swearing occurs is meaningful. If it's done behind closed doors, it may be a good venting process, but it should never be done in public--and especially in front of customers.

Also agreed is that the swearing should never be directed at one individual, especially to denigrate the person, and never by a superior. It's better to keep your mouth shut if you are emotional or angry, because it's pretty likely that you will regret it later--maybe in court.

See the case of a New Zealand store manager who allegedly told the owner to “stick his job up his arse.” Was that the manager's way of resigning? No, a judge ruled. The judge said the manager was not issuing a clear resignation, just having “an emotional outburst in the heat of the moment.” The employer should have followed up with the man to clarify the manager's intentions, the judge said. The departure was a termination, not a resignation, the judge ruled. Therefore, the angry and potty-mouthed employee was eligible for lost earnings and additional money for “distress” caused by the firing.

We'd love to hear how HR professionals feel about workplace swearing. Do you hear a lot of it at your organization? Is it acceptable at your workplace as long as it doesn't cross the line into discrimination based on protected characteristics? Are you guilty of it yourself? Let us know at

Sources: MSNBC and Stuff

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