LONDON, Oct. 18, 2007 -- Having a bad day at work? Rather than letting the frustration build, you might want to try belting out a well-timed expletive right there in the office.
New research from the British University of East Anglia suggests that dropping a few choice curse words at work might be a good way to let off steam. The researchers say swearing can be an effective way to reduce anxiety and increase social solidarity, and they suggest executives take note.
"For some people, the use of profanity is a way to create collegiality," Yehuda Baruch, professor of management at the institution's Norwich Business School and one of the directors of the study, told ABC News. "For others, it's a way to relieve stress."
"This is a message to managers," Baruch continued. "When people feel better, the group feels better. It's a win-win situation."
The study, which focused on management and leadership style and was published in a British business journal this month, used six English and American focus groups composed mainly of students to gather information. Though many of the participants were "quite young," Baruch said, many had at least part-time or full-time work experience.
When in Doubt, Leave It Out
While the study showed both men and women use swearing as a way to cut stress, Baruch warns that cursing shouldn't be allowed in all situations.
"If anybody is offended, it should be banned," Baruch said, adding that when customers or senior staff is present, the use of profanity is not acceptable.
"But," Baruch continued, "if everybody is happy with it, and we want our people to be happy, then we should be able to live with it."
But not everyone agrees that using bad language to vent frustration at work is a good idea.
"That kind of aggressive behavior intimidates people and violates their space," said Robert Perkins, president of the management consulting firm Corporate Psychology and visiting professor of management at Mercer University. "It pollutes the environment."
"I think you've got to bring a skepticism to that kind of study," Perkins continued, adding that more emotionally sensitive employees could be especially offended by swearing, but may not be inclined to speak up.
"We have to protect the most vulnerable," he said. "Treating people with that façade of civilization is really important. What you really want is an atmosphere where you're free to share ideas."
Perkins also questioned whether using mostly younger participants could have skewed the study's results.
"Many of them, all of a sudden they get real conservative when they start having jobs and families," Perkins said of college students. "Then they become very protective."
Peter Smit, a spokesman for the Netherlands-based Association Against Swearing, which seeks to reduce the use of profanity in public life, said he doubts swearing can truly relieve stress.
"They say that cursing is a good way to blow off steam," Smit said when told of Baruch's study. "I would posit against that that self-control is a better way to peace of mind, and to self-respect. And I think you achieve much more with that. It's a better way to communicate."
Baruch, in his own way, agreed.
"My opinion is that swearing is very, very bad," Baruch said, adding that he "wouldn't allow it at home."
"I was intrigued and even offended by the results," he said of his study, and chuckled.
But "to my amazement," Baruch continued, "sometimes and under certain circumstances, it serves a positive cause. And my message to managers is, well, don't allow it formally, don't encourage it, definitely, but sometimes it will be better to use common sense and to be permissive."