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On-the-Job Profanity: Is Your Vocabulary Choice at Work Holding Back Your Career?

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

Watch your &^%#$ language!

A study by CareerBuilder revealed that 51% of workers surveyed admit to using profane language in the office (understandable if you work with computers using a certain operating system), and 95% of those folks said they do so in front of co-workers while 51% admitted using foul language in conversations with their managers. But, angels that we all are, we are least likely to use expletives in front of senior management and clients.

Employers found that employees who possess and display a profanity-laced vocabulary appear less professional, seem to have self-control and maturity issues, and 50% thought that such language makes an employee appear less intelligent.

The study revealed that profanity is most often heard when levels of stress or tension are elevated; but then again, there are just some people who use such language regardless of stress, frustration, or tension. Just watch any reality TV show and count the number of BLEEPS heard. Why would anyone think that using such language in front of TV cameras enhances the perception viewers have of them?

The CareerBuilder survey found that Washington, DC was the worst when it came to swearing at work (I don’t think “swearing in” counted here), and Philadelphia was the “least worst” in the Top 10 job markets in the U.S. As for age groups, the worst was the 35 to 44 age group (sure, they have kids, college educations, and mortgages to pay for); the “least worst” was the 18-24 age group, with the over 55 age group right behind.

Science Says It’s Good for You to Swear

Dr. Emma Byrne popular book, Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language, reveals that profanity offers many positive virtues, from promoting trust and teamwork in the office to increasing our tolerance to pain. Legions of employees are citing her work as giving them the “green light” to use profanity on the job (as if there’s not enough gratuitous profanity in the halls and conference rooms now).

Full disclosure: I’ve used profanity when I smash my thumb with a hammer or stub my toe on a door frame, but not in public or mixed company. I chose a higher standard for my conduct, not a book by an author holding a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence (I will refrain from commenting on the obvious oxymoron in that last sentence).

From a job and career perspective, your use of vocabulary on the job influences the perceptions others have of you.  Profanity in the office does negatively impact that perception/impression and could be a limiting factor for your career progress. It’s an indicator that you may lack the Power of Presence.

Two anonymous individuals penned great quotations about profanity:

Profanity is the weapon of the witless.
When a man uses profanity to support an argument, it indicates that either the man or the argument is weak–probably both.


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