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Language in the workplace: should leaders and managers swear?

Some people couldn’t care less about swearing while others are highly offended by it. Bad language can be a divisive topic in it’s own right, but swearing at work seems to cause an even greater split.

There is evidence to suggest swearing in the workplace can have a positive impact on morale and relieve stress therefore boosting productivity, creating a better team spirit and improving bonds between colleagues.

The reason for this is that it enables people to be themselves and express themselves in a way that they naturally would outside of the office. When colleagues see this happening, it helps to break down barriers because you are seeing more of the personality behind the job title.

Others might argue that swearing is just rude, immature, unjustified, and a lazy way of expressing feeling. Of course, context is everything. It can be very easy to interpret swearing as nothing more than straightforward anger and aggression.

While cursing the computer system for crashing on you for the tenth time today may be seen as humorous, using foul language to abuse your boss for increasing your workload will probably paint you in a bad light. 

But what about when bosses and managers swear? Does this make you feel comfortable? These are the people you are supposed to look to for leadership so you want to see someone who is strong and in control and if that means using ‘strong’ language then that’s great, right?

On the other hand, if the person managing your team is always ‘effing and blinding’, doesn’t this display a lack of control? Shouldn’t they be more sensitive to their team members since the negative consequences of not swearing surely outweigh the positives of swearing?

Think back to Barack Obama’s reaction to the BP oil spill when he was said not to care enough about the incident – until he told a reporter he wanted to find out “whose ass to kick”. And it was only recently that Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron was widely criticised for referring to a member of the opposition party as a “muttering idiot.”

In some workplaces, they play it safe by having a zero tolerance policy on swearing in any context, be it humorous, light-hearted or otherwise. Others may want to encourage an open environment, freedom of expression and so forth. Whatever is decided, it’s important to be consistent and practice what is preached.

What are your feelings on swearing in the workplace? How much depends on where you work? Would you speak out if you manager’s language made you uncomfortable?

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