Take This Job and $%^# It?

In an age of widespread layoffs, many might be more inclined to play it safe by keeping their language clean in the workplace. But that doesn't include Leyland Streiff.

Streiff's expletive of choice is a popular one — the four-letter word that begins with "F" — and the advertising account manager said he uses it in the office about 20 times a day. He's not worried about his foul mouth endangering his career.

"I don't see any sort of problem with it, especially in a fast-paced work environment," said Streiff, who lives in New York. Swearing, he added, can help diffuse tension and create "more of a fun atmosphere."

David Love, an operations manager at a sauce and gravy manufacturing company in Illinois, sees it differently.

"I think there is no such thing as harmless swearing," he said. His company, Custom Culinary, this year hosted a speaker who lectured managers on the consequences of swearing on the job. The presentation was scheduled after an employee complained about a superior's use of foul language.

"People understood the priority we put on respecting each other, and language we use with one another is a big part of that respect," Love said.

If Streiff and Love represent black and white in the workplace language debate, the research on on-the-job swearing takes on a dark shade of gray. A March survey of 2,025 American executives by the job search Web site TheLadders.com found that more than 81 percent said it was unacceptable to work alongside a foul-mouthed colleague. Six percent said they had fired an employee for swearing.

But a 2007 report by researchers in the U.K. concluded that uttering expletives actually can benefit a work environment. In "Swearing at Work and Permissive Leadership Culture: When Anti-Social Becomes Social and Incivility Is Acceptable," Yehuda Baruch and Stuart Jenkins write that swearing may be part of a "lively, boisterous communication style" that creates solidarity among employees.

The report, which included results from a case study of a small British retail business, also concluded that swearing could relieve stress.

"As long as the employees are swearing, they may not be happy, but they are coping," the report said.

In an interview with ABC News, Baruch, a professor of management at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, said that managers should address swearing in the workplace when it offends others, alienates customers or amounts to harassment, such as when a superior uses abusive language against an employee. But otherwise Baruch, who said that he personally deplores foul language, said that employers should use discretion in attempting to curb swearing.

"Managers should realize that there are different cultures within the organization, and it may not be the best to try and impose a standard on language," he said. "Sometimes the best way to manage people is to know when to look the other way."

Baruch's research notwithstanding, two career experts who spoke with ABC said that, generally, swearing in the workplace is inadvisable.

Michelle Goodman, the author of "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" and a career columnist for ABCNEWS.com, said that using foul language at work is the linguistic equivalent of wearing sweatpants to the office.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...