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Curbing profanity in the workplace

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in Your Office Coach

Question: “Our top executives use a lot of profanity. Most of us who report to them, both male and female, find this very offensive.  During one meeting with hourly workers, some employees even asked them to ‘stop using that kind of language.’ Ironically, these men frequently tell us to treat our employees with respect, yet they seem to have no interest in being more respectful themselves. How can we end this verbal abuse without getting ourselves fired?” — Offended Manager

Marie’s Answer:  Executives are supposed to be role models, but these guys either lack self-control or enjoy acting like naughty little boys. Since reprimanding top management can lead to career suicide, you need an influential supporter. Here’s how you might proceed:

•    Among the executive group, you should be able to find at least one who can recognize the negative impact of this constant cursing. Once you locate this potential ally, present the business case for curbing the salty language.  

•    Explain that all the swearing is causing employees to lose respect for top management, since profanity is highly offensive to many people. Even those who are not bothered by four-letter words frequently find them inappropriate at work. Customers and job applicants may also be turned off by this juvenile behavior.

•    If sexual references and innuendos are part of this verbal barrage, the executives are being legally irresponsible as well. Defending a “hostile environment” sexual harassment charge could be embarrassing, expensive and time-consuming for the company.

•    If the selected executive seems receptive to these arguments, ask for help in getting the others to change their behavior. Together, you may be able to devise a strategy that will motivate them to clean up their act.

To assess your own potentially offensive behaviors, take a Quick Quiz: Do You Annoy Your Co-Workers?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Deb June 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm

While not in the workplace, I knew a man who used profanity to an extreme. I found it very annoying. In a conversation one day, he was going on about “how can people let themselves get so fat – don’t they have any self control about what they eat?” I asked him if he could go even one day with using profanity – did he have self control?. He took the challenge and failed. However – he did cut down, especially when he was around me. If you can make the point in a personal way, it might help.

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