Is there an effective way to eliminate workplace expletives? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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Is there an effective way to eliminate workplace expletives?

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in The HR Specialist Forum

Question: “We have a group of workers who like to congregate before or after work to talk. The only problem is they often use profanity that makes others uncomfortable. This sometimes spills over into the break room during lunch too. Most of them have been with the company for more than 20 years, so it might be difficult to make them change their ways. How can I respectfully approach them to ask them to be respectful of others in the language they use?” — HR in PA


I have always found that the straight forward approach is always the best. Simply walk up to the group and explain that their language could be considered by many as offensive and as such can not be tollerated in the work place. Offensive language whether directed at someone or merely as a part of the work environment can not be condoned or ignored by management.

I would meet with the group and discuss my concerns. I would advise them that if I didn't see immediate and sustained improvement I will put the break room off limits until 15 minutes before and after work.

Many people disagree with the use of profanity these days. Does your company have a policy that prohibits it? If not, you might suggest one. If the language creates a hostile and offensive work environment, you might consider reminding the offenders of your harassment policy.

Maybe you can combine education and fun. As others have suggested, explain to employees why is isn't acceptable. Then do something the actress Loretta Young used to do on the set of her TV show: She set up a "cuss box." Anyone caught cussing had to drop a quarter in the box. You can donate the money to a charity.

This is definitely a problem in the work place. In a previous job, I had an supervisor who was the main culprit. I finally asked if I could speak to him privately and asked that when he is speaking to me if he could not curse or swear. I do not speak that way to you and I do not wished to be speaked to in that manner. He apoligized and it never happened again. However, he still spoke to my colleauges that way and my colleagues were speaking that way too. Eventually, someone from another department complained and the Senior VP of our division held a held a meeting and spoke to us and implemented the Lorreta Young idea and things really improved.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ming February 12, 2009 at 4:40 pm

One of our directors charges everyone $1 for every swear word they use. Then he donates all the money to a children’s charity and matches what has been collected from the employees. It’s very funny, has been pretty effective … although there are some meetings where people go in and pay him in advance, depending on the purpose of the meeting. *haha*


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