Swearing in the Workplace

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This year at Glastonbury Adele swore 33 times whilst performing her 90 minute set, despite being warned beforehand by the BBC to keep her language under control. In some ways, this was of no surprise as Adele is known for having quite a potty-mouth, but this is part of her personality and why some fans love how down to earth she is. In today’s popular culture, it is the norm for there to be swearwords used in songs, tweets on social media, and in interviews – but how is it regulated?

Ofcom, the UK Regulator of Communications has put the ‘watershed’ in place to “Protect children from harmful material on TV and rAdio”. Unsuitable material, deemed harmful can include everything from sexual content to violence, graphic or distressing imagery and swearing. Since 2003 Ofcom has taken action on more than 300 occasions when broadcasters have scheduled unsuitable content before or immediately after the watershed. Ofcom have been known to take actions in cases of inappropriate music videos shown too early in the afternoon e.g. Rihanna’s S&M. This does not mean though, that after 9pm, TV channels can show whatever they want.

Now how about at work?

Definitions of inappropriate swearing at work can be down to personal preference, but all organisations should have a policy in place highlighting when or if swearing is ever appropriate within the team. Swearing can actually fall under Bullying, Harassment & Verbal Assault in the workplace, depending upon whether the profane language used made someone else feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended (see more on the Acas website). It is covered by various pieces of legislation notably the Equality Act 2010 and Human Rights Act.

Of course, there are some industries where swearing is more common. Take Gordon Ramsay as a typical stereotype of someone who swears an awful lot, back in 2009, Channel 4 were forced to review Gordon’s Great British Nightmare, following Ramsay swearing over 243 times in one show. In his defence he claimed that he never swears at home, and his children know which bad words shouldn’t be said. This shows he knows that it is not good to swear continuously, and with this in mind, why does he feel it so necessary?

Some literature suggests that it depends on an individuals’ management style as to whether they swear; passion vs. loss on control. Swear words are such a taboo that using them makes something seem more powerful – according to Timothy Jay, in his article in the Perspectives on Psychological Science. He does make reference to the particular swear word used, context and audience though.

Now place yourself in the position of an employee, if your line manager swore at you, how would you react?

  1. Respond in a positive way and feel fired up and motivated to keep going.
  2. Feel uncomfortable? Even cry and want to leave the company.

It is important to know how best to communicate with your staff in order to get the best out of them but at the same time remain professional. We suggest you enforce a professional code of conduct approach to the implementation of an aggression and violence at work policy as you can never be too sure how someone could take it. For further information as mentioned above consult Acas or your HR Advisor.

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