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Build Your Career Office Life

#NoFilter: Profanity Pervades Modern Offices

#NoFilter: Profanity Pervades Modern Offices
Credit: vectorfusionart/Shutterstock

Find yourself hearing a lot more colorful language at work these days? You're not alone. The continuing trend toward the casualization of the work place has lead to a relaxing of expectations around how we talk at work, too. 

A study from the project management software provider Wrike revealed that nearly 60 percent of employees admit to cursing at work. Specifically, 49 percent of those who have sworn in the workplace said that they do so a few times a week, 25 percent curse daily and 16 percent said they only swear rarely, and it's likely by accident. Additionally, 11 percent said that they swear frequently because it's part of their workplace culture.

Andrew Filev, CEO of Wrike, said that he thinks swearing has become much more socially acceptable in general over the last couple of decades, and that doing it at work is a sign of a cultural shift in what's acceptable behavior in the office.

"One of the drivers of this is the advent of social media and blogging, where people share unfiltered and unedited content that is often not subject to any kind of standards or censorship," Wrike told Business News Daily. "In the workplace, we are seeing more casual attitudes about dress codes and a blurring of the lines between our professional and social lives, also enhanced by social media connections between colleagues."

Although the majority of workers swear in the office, many don't necessarily feel that it provides any benefits. Of those surveyed, 41 percent think swearing at work feels too casual and unprofessional, 39 percent said it causes awkward moments and 30 percent believe it can result in hurt feelings. [See Related Story: How Swearing at Work Could Ruin Your @#*! Career]

"I think even people who do swear casually at work have probably experienced [awkward moments] at some point, especially if there are contextual misunderstandings or anger involved," Filev said.

Some of those surveyed believe that using foul language at work has some positives. Thirty percent said swearing reflects the passion their team has for their work and 28 percent said it makes conveying ideas and feelings easier.

Filev said that workers — especially millennials — value the freedom to be authentic and open in the workplace.

"They believe swearing helps them express themselves in that way," he said. "They've also grown up with foul-mouthed, power-player characters in popular culture like Ari Gold from Entourage, who have helped to normalize swearing in and out of the office."

Overall, younger employees are much more likely to swear at work than their older peers. The study found that 66 percent of millennial workers admit to cursing in the office, compared to just 54 percent of baby boomers and Gen X professionals.

One possible explanation for this discrepancy is that millennials are often transitioning from college to a work environment and are just starting to figure out the rules of the workplace, according to Filev.

"Millennials see swearing in the workplace as having a positive overall effect on culture, so I wouldn't expect it to be curbed anytime soon," Filev said.

When it comes to whom they swear in front of, employees aren't very discriminating. The research shows that 80 percent of workers curse in front of peers, 75 percent do so in front of their closest colleagues, 55 percent do it front of managers and 39 percent swear in front of their direct reports.

Workers are least likely to use foul language in front of company leaders and clients. Only 30 percent of workers said they swear when executives are around, and just 2 percent said they frequently curse when in the company of clients.

The research indicates that many workers take their swearing cues from their bosses. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they are more likely to curse if their boss does so as well.

Filev said bosses need to be cognizant that a lot of swearing's impact comes from its context.

"Like anything else, swearing can be used to emphasize appreciation, but it can also increase hostility in other cases, so bosses should tread carefully and set a good example," Filev said.

Since it does make some employees uncomfortable, each company should decide for itself whether it makes sense to ban it in the workplace altogether, Filev said.

"A small mobile development startup may have very different standards than a Fortune 1000 enterprise," Filev said. "In any environment, if somebody feels that swearing is creating a hostile environment, there are a lot of potential ramifications on culture, and even legal risks as well."

The study was based on surveys of 1,542 workers in the U.S. in a variety of roles and industries, including marketing, IT, research and development, finance and human resources.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.