Never mind the b******t, swearing at work is a good thing


on October 19, 2007

I knew this was the case!

This is the kind of news that your HR folks don’t want to hear, but researchers today said letting workers swear at will in the workplace can benefit employees and employers.

The study found regular use of profanity to express and reinforce solidarity among staff, letting them express their feelings, such as frustration, and develop social relationships, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Researchers said their aim was to challenge leadership styles and suggest ideas for best practices.

“Employees use swearing on a continuous basis, but not necessarily in a negative, abusive manner. Swearing was as a social phenomenon to reflect solidarity and enhance group cohesiveness, or as a psychological phenomenon to release stress, ” the study stated. “Most of the cases were reported by employees at the lower levels of the organizational hierarchies and it was clear that executives use swearing language less frequently. ”

“The primary issue for management is whether or not to apply a tolerant leadership culture to the workplace and deliberately allow swearing,” said Yehuda Baruch, professor of management at the UEA-based Norwich Business School (NBS), and graduate Stuart Jenkins looked at the use of expletives and swearing in the work place from a management point of view.

Younger managers and professionals were more tolerant in what they accepted as ethical behavior, suggesting that age may be a moderator for the spreading of potty mouth language to the workplace. Women also swore more than might traditionally be expected, especially among themselves.

The study also found that swearing did not take place in front of or within close proximity to customers, but once they had gone or in staff areas. The research suggests that while a ban on swear words and reprimanding staff might represent strong leadership, it would remove the source of solidarity and in doing so could lead to decreased morale and work motivation.

The results of the study, “Swearing at work and permissive leadership culture: when anti-social becomes social and incivility is acceptable”, are published in the current issue of the Leadership and Organization Development Journal.

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