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To swear in the workplace or not. What is swearing doing for your career; building it or destroying it? Based on a survey conducted by CareerBuilder reports that 81% of employers believe that swearing brings an employee’s professionalism in to question. I disagree, I’m one of the 19%. It’s a topic that has been front of mind for me recently due to a few different scenarios I’ve experienced.
Has the work environment changed over time and have we become more accepting of swearing in the workplace? Are we just more comfortable with being who we are and not trying to be someone at work and someone else at home; are we more comfortable being our true selves in the work place? Is it because of the generational changes in the workplace? Gen Y’s get the criticised for bringing a new approach and style to workplace, have they too influenced the appropriateness of swearing in the workplace? I don’t have the answers to these questions but I’m intrigued.
I swear in the workplace. If we had a swear jar in our office, I’d be leading the tally in contributing to it. I never (and never will) swear at a team member, or at anyone else for that matter. I tend to do it quietly to myself or in a discussion with another staff member. Often it tends to be from frustration, to vent or for emphasis if I’m telling a story. It’s exactly the same as what I would do in a scenario in me personal life. I have sworn in conversation with a candidate and also with particular clients. Is it damaging my career, the brand of my business and my professionalism? The answer is I honestly don’t know but I don’t think so.
It got me thinking about how I’d feel if my team members were swearing with clients and candidates or at a function or event while representing Inspire HQ. It would be hypocritical of me to say to them not to swear when I do it. Yet in protecting my brand I want us to be known as professional. This is where I think it gets interesting.
We’ve just spent the last few months refining our mission and values and one of the values our team has agreed on is No B*$#!*it. We spent a lot of time talking about using this language and if it was appropriate and how did everyone feel about it. There was mixed views and opinions yet in the end we decided this is what we wanted. We could have easily gone with Honesty or Telling the truth yet we all agreed that wasn’t enough for us. We all wanted something that felt a little more passionate, we want to be different in the space we operate in and sadly for the recruitment and consulting industry there is definitely a perception of B*$#!*itting. We want to break that perception down, we tell our clients and candidates how it is even if it might not be what they want to hear. We call each other and the people we work with out if we don’t believe something.
Maybe it simply comes down to the audience and the context; I don’t know. I recently had a situation where I was working with a candidate to place him in a job. There were a few things that didn’t add up going through the recruitment process, not concerning enough to rule him out but they were loose ends that I wanted tied up and wanted to understand. We had gone around and around in circles and were getting nowhere. I was on the phone to this guy and in our open plan office the rest of my team were working away around me. After going around in circles and getting no where I called him on it. I said to him “Ok Tom (let’s call him Tom for the sake of this example), lets just cut the B*$#!*it…..” and from here I let him know what needed to happen for us to be able to move forward. It’s not the kind of approach I’d take to with every candidate yet the second I said this to him the conversation completely changed. There was a moment of silence, maybe he couldn’t believe I’d just dropped the B bomb and been so forthright with him but immediately the conversation changed. He opened up, was honest and from there we were able to finalise the placement. Was it the swearing that changed the situation and got the outcome or was it the directness in outlining what had to happen before we could move forward? I don’t know the answer to this but hand on heart I think the swearing helped. It was like he seemed to feel that I was working with him as opposed to against him and that we were on the same page. Maybe I should mention this candidate had previously swore in conversations; it was the norm for him. It would be fair to say dropping the B bomb had caught the attention of my team and taken them by surprise from the discussion that ensued when I hung up the phone. Would I do it again in the same situation? Absolutely.
I could go on and on sharing experiences about swearing in the workplace. I still don’t know if it’s right or wrong; if it damages your career or reduces your professionalism. I’ll continue to swear in our office, use it when I feel it’s appropriate with clients and candidates and I certainly won’t prohibit my team members from doing it but I will share with them my personal views on when it is and isn’t appropriate. I don’t think swearing in the workplace has anything to do with Gen Y’s – there are plenty of baby boomers who I deal with that can swear like troopers. I don’t think it’s a male or female thing. I do think there needs to be a balance of being authentic and genuine but also reading the situation and considering your audience. Swearing in the workplace is fine depending on the context, the audience and as long as you are being yourself, not trying to be someone you’re not. I’m happy to be challenged on this opinion.
Let me know what you think, I’m keen to hear your experiences and perceptions of swearing in the workplace.
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Angela Connor is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource and career coaching companies. She understands the significance of having the right team of people in a business and is passionate about helping business to attract, recruit and engage the right people so those people can inject their talents into the business; creating an environment where they can do great work and love what they do. Find more useful information and advice at www.inspirehq.com.au or by following Angela on LinkedIn.