Career Advice, Watercooler

When Is Cursing at Work an “Oh Sh*t” Moment?

Hating your job

How much should you censor your language at work? This can be a little tricky because there’s no definitive answer. At some companies, dropping an expletive can be offensive and off-color. In other professional contexts, integrating the f-bomb into a conversation can be as normal as signing an email with your name.

Although the question about cussing at work leads to a linguistic grey-area, there are still things everyone needs to keep in mind before saying their favorite swear word in earshot of a colleague or boss.

[Related: Break These Bad Office Habits Now]

Cursing usually carries a negative connotation, but curse words are also more casual and familiar. Because of this, they hold a special ability to humanize a person or a particular situation, and a strategically placed four letter word can often break tension and add levity. On the other hand, cursing can signal severity—especially if the words are not frequently used. A cuss word can draw attention to a more dramatic tone.

Swearing in the workplace is objectively neither fine or foul. It does, however, need to be approached thoughtfully and tactfully. In order to get a greater sense of the nuances of swearing, Glassdoor spoke to Jim O’Connor, the author of CUSS CONTROL: The Complete Book On How to Curb Your Cursing about his thoughts on cursing in the workplace. He shares his thoughts on whether swear words have a place in the office. Read on!

GLASSDOOR: What do you believe is the effect of cursing in a professional environment?

JIM O’CONNOR: Work can be stressful, problems occur, and people swear to vent their frustration and blow off steam. If they use the words that most people consider the most vulgar or offensive, and if they remain in an angry mood, they make other employees uncomfortable and reluctant to deal with the hot heads. Also, if customers are nearby, bad language and temperament make a bad impression on the company, not just the individual.

Casual swearing is not provoked by a situation. It’s just lazy language. While this type of swearing has become more common and tolerated in all lines of work, it still offends some people.

[Related: Find A Job That Will Let You Curse at the Office]

If your boss curses, is that an immediate go-ahead for employees to cuss?

JO: Yes. On the other hand, if the boss says he or she doesn’t want to hear anyone swearing, workers will try to control their language and also the emotions that cause them to swear.

What’s your #1 tip for cursing less?

JO: Have a positive, can-do attitude, and be patient. People who just do their job and consider problems to be challenges are happier in their work and admired by others. Think of a fellow employee who doesn’t complain or criticize. That person probably never swears, and is pleasant to work with.


TELL US: Do you cuss at work? How do you gage when to cuss and when not to? @glassdoor