The Effects of Workplace Profanity

Know the effects of your words, especially if you're using potentially offensive ones.
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The discussion over workplace profanity is a heated one. While some studies and sources suggest that profanity in the workplace can invigorate or inspire colleagues, others state that it can have adverse effects in the workplace, especially on female employees. Before forming an opinion on the subject, it's important to understand the effects of workplace profanity -- not only on your colleagues, but on your career.

Positive Impacts

    In a study published in the 2007 issue of "Leadership & Organization Development Journal," researchers Yehuda Baruch and Stuart Jenkins found that profanity can be effective in many office and workplace environments. Social profanity can define relationships between people; demonstrate a level of familiarity, humor or trust; blow off steam; and invigorate teams or groups of colleagues. Social profanity is one of the more common kinds used in the workplace. However, if overly used or done in a disrespectful or vulgar way, profanity can have adverse effects.

Negative Impacts

    Profanity may have positive effects in some scenarios, but it can also have a detrimental impact on the workplace. Cursing not only offends, angers, annoys, intimidates and hurts some colleagues, but it gives them a chance to pass judgment on you. If you're in a managerial position, profanity can make those working for you feel intimidated. If you curse in front of a supervisor, she may see you as unable to control your temper and unfit for career advancement.

Legal Ramifications

    Whether your colleagues are completely fine with or entirely against profanity in the workplace, state laws and company policies may already be in place that prevent you from dropping an "f-bomb" or the "s-word." A talk with human resources or a walk through your company handbook should outline what's considered acceptable. However, no matter what your supervisor says or the handbook outlines, you must be aware that the words you choose to use -- profane or otherwise -- can be misinterpreted as sexual harassment, bullying or racial or religious discrimination.

Effects on Women

    Yehuda Baruch and Stuart Jenkins' 2007 study, “Swearing at Work and Permissive Leadership Culture," not only cites some of the benefits of profanity, but its effects on women. According to the findings, while men who curse tend to gain respect, even reverence, in the workplace, "female swearers are often perceived to be of a low moral standing." Despite the double standard, the study also found that women actually tend to use profane language more in mixed company as a means of asserting themselves and preventing men from dominating conversation.

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