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Swearing at Work: Some Damn Good Advice

Do you curse at work? Even Psychology Today has weighed in on the virtues of swearing, citing benefits like increased endorphins and self-esteem. Using expletives in the workplace has also been found to help enhance group solidarity, enabling the development of personal relationships among co-workers. However, research points out a few double standards that may make you stop and ask “WTF?” about the pros and cons of swearing at work. We gathered additional insights from our own colleagues.

NOT In an Interview

Even those who swear regularly on the job will often say “hell no” to swearing in an interview. A Dallas-based HR director told us, “[Swearing is] never OK during an interview. But, if it’s not OK at work, then we will have to terminate 99 percent of our staff.”

A former software programmer at an Austin-based gaming company agrees, admitting that even if foul-mouthed language is celebrated in your culture, swearing in an interview can still cross the line. Instead, use the interview to find out if a culture of swearing will be a problem later on. As he recalls, “We used to ask interviewees, ‘Are you offended by foul language in the workplace?’”


What’s the Effing Deal?

Some words in particular seem to be worse than others. When reflecting on her troubled tenure, Yahoo’s former CEO Carol Bartz once admitted, “I probably wouldn’t have said the F-word.”

One communications executive at a major non-profit association in Austin told us, “I’ve had a few interviewees who used a minor swear word or two and it didn’t bother me,” she said. “Now, if someone started dropping F-bombs all over the place, it would have been a very different story.”

In fact, the F-word itself has become fodder for political debate. “In the South, or in the Midwest…you would not have people who would just throw the F-bomb or use gratuitous profanity in a professional setting,” says GOP Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee. “In New York, not only do the men do it, but the women. My gosh, this is worse than locker-room talk.”


Know Your Audience

Even studies that find swearing at work to be beneficial cite other cautions. For instance, the study that found swearing to enhance group solidarity also found that swearing in front of customers or high-level management can be counter-productive.

Lifehacker’s Adam Posh weighed in on the swearing controversy, particularly within the software developer community, with a thoughtful piece that concluded, “Whether you’re pro- or anti-swearing, obviously context is the most important thing. Unless you’re still rebelling against your parents or are choosing to swear for an actually considered reason, there’s no point in dropping profanity.”

Looking for alternatives? Check out these top made-for-TV fake swear words that should do fracking nicely.