Workplace

Cursing at Work Harms Your @#$%& Career


Alan Arkin and Alec Baldwin in the movie "Glengarry, Glen Ross," 1992.

Photograph by New Line Cinema/Everett Collection

Alan Arkin and Alec Baldwin in the movie "Glengarry, Glen Ross," 1992.

Next time you want to curse in front of your boss at work, maybe you should consider shutting the @#$& up.

In a new CareerBuilder survey, 64 percent of employers think less of an employee who repeatedly uses curse words, and 57 percent are less likely to promote someone who swears in the office. Employers cite questions about the worker’s professionalism, lack of control, lack of maturity, and seeming lack of intelligence.

“There’s a general sense that the workplace is more casual, like what people are wearing. There are so many other ways that’s coming into play, so [we thought] maybe conversation is less buttoned up,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president for human resources at CareerBuilder. The survey found that perception to be false. “People want [language] to be professional.”

Workers in Washington, D.C., report the highest rate of office swearing (62 percent), followed by Denver and Chicago. New York City, despite its reputation for lewdness, ranks ninth. “I don’t know how to explain that,” says Haefner. “The label in New York is that cursing is wrapped up as part of the day-to-day language, but perhaps in the workplace, maybe they are holding back more.” Or maybe New Yorkers don’t even hear the foul language anymore.

About 54 percent of men nationwide report swearing, compared with 47 percent of women. Employees aged 35 to 44 swear the most (58 percent) and those aged 18 to 24 the least (42 percent). One explanation for the generation gap is that people in junior positions are less willing to swear in front of their bosses, while senior staffers may feel more entitled to mouth off.

Cursing in the abstract is different from cursing at people. A security guard in Australia was fired for cursing at his boss (Fair Work Australia, an industrial relations institution, later ordered his reinstatement). One high school basketball coach in New Hampshire was fired for calling one of his players a “lazy piece of [expletive]” during practice. Even former Yahoo Chief Executive Carol Bartz wishes she didn’t drop so many f-bombs, Forbes reported.

Haefner advises those with offensive vocabularies to check in with colleagues and ask if it bothers them. “Some people will say it’s fine. Others will say they don’t like it, never have,” she says.

CareerBuilder’s survey was conducted by Harris Interactive among 2,298 hiring managers and human resource professionals in the U.S. and 3,892 U.S. full-time, not self-employed, nongovernment workers aged 18 and over.

Still, employers themselves are not so innocent: 25 percent admit to swearing at their employees. You might want to tell them to shove it, but best to keep that thought to yourself.

Venessa-wong-190x190
Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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