Swearing at work may be stalling your career

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Swear words, colorful language, expletives, curse words, profanity and bleeped out/ censored words. There are plenty of ways to say the words you’re not supposed to say. But if swear words are in regular rotation in your work vocabulary, consider passing on the expletives or you may be passed over for a promotion.

A new CareerBuilder survey finds that 64 percent of employers say they’d think less of an employee who repeatedly uses curse words, and 57 percent of employers say they’d be less likely to promote someone who swears in the office. More than 2,000 hiring managers and 3,800 workers across industries and company sizes nationwide were surveyed, and their response was loud and clear: Swearing at work is unprofessional and creates a negative impression of the offender.

Swear words and work culture
Whether the glass is half full or half empty at work, half of workers (51 percent) reported that they swear in the office. Ninety-five percent of those workers said they do so in front of their co-workers, and 51 percent swear in front of the boss. However, workers were the least likely to use expletives in front of senior leaders (13 percent) and their clients (7 percent).

Despite the large number of offenders, employers aren’t so understanding of employees’ use of profanities. Eighty-one percent of employers believe that the use of swear words brings the employee’s professionalism into question, 71 percent believe swearing indicates a lack of control, 68 percent say there’s a lack of maturity and 54 percent say swearing at work makes an employee appear less intelligent.

However, while most employers judge workers who swear, they aren’t so innocent themselves. Twenty-five percent of employers admit to swearing at their employees. Could censor-worthy employers be a bad influence? Nearly the same amount of employees (28 percent) say they’ve sworn at co-workers.

Cities most likely to swear
Maybe it’s because it’s an election year, maybe it’s Denver’s wildfires or maybe it’s Chicago’s frustration with baseball, but the top three cities whose workers report swearing at work need to find new ways to vent. Here’s the full list of swear-word loving cities:

1. Washington D.C. – 62 percent
2. Denver – 60 percent
3. Chicago – 58 percent
4. Los Angeles – 56 percent
5. Boston – 56 percent
6. Atlanta – 54 percent
7. Minneapolis – 50 percent
8. Phoenix – 47 percent
9. New York – 46 percent
10. Philadelphia – 44 percent

Swearing by age
The millennial generation and baby boomers are the least likely to swear at work when comparing age groups, while Generation X workers report that they’re more likely to swear while on the job.

  • Employees ages 18-24: 42 percent say they swear at work
  • Employees ages 25-34: 51 percent say they swear at work
  • Employees ages 35-44: 58 percent say they swear at work
  • Employees ages 45-54: 41 percent say they swear at work
  • Employees ages 55 and over: 44 percent say they swear at work
42 Comments
  1. This is a relevant topic for our current and prospective students. Being mindful of workplace language isn’t necessarily as intuitive for many of today’s employees as it used to be, say 20 years ago.Yet even in the most relaxed office environment using curse words can really undermine credibility and trust. Thanks for focusing on this and reminding us that we need to be sharing this type of direct guidance with our students.

  2. @CareerBuilder umm. I remember a boss fr my past that threw in a curse word or 2 during meetings. They were positive meetings, 2. @UberFacts

  3. It’s a pity that this article doesn’t consider that offensive language doesn’t necessarily include the use of swear words. Sometimes the most apparently polite comment, when used in a negative context, can definitely be just as damaging.
    This American definition of a black and white world (swear vs no swear) is a pitiful simplification of the real working environment. I would definitely as an employer never diminish someone’s promotion regarding on their use of swear words. Actually, the use of swear words can improve the workplace when used as an escape of stress situations. Let’s learn not to see the picture in black and white, and let’s be wise enough to analyse the situation in full blown colour and space, as it deserves to be witnessed.
    Some of the most talented people I’ve ever seen swear sometimes, because the demand for perfection carries with it a huge load of stress. It’s not necessarily directed to anyone, but used as a steam exhaust.
    If other employers and employees don’t know how to deal with this reality, it is revealing of a lack of capacity to understand human nature, and therefore shows also lack of leadership. Most of the great leaders also cursed occasionaly. I am an occasional curser myself, but I have never had a complaint by anyone, because I never directed any curse to anyone in any offensive way.
     
    Let’s all grow up a bit and see the world in color.
    My best,
    D.

  4. I agree as well this is a relevant topic for those of us starting out career-wise. However, what also needs to be addressed is the utter lack of communication within the workplace about offensive language being offensive. People no longer utilize their natural, god-given ability of speech to voice their concerns in an adult manner a.k.a conflict resolution out of fear of conflict. Instead, there are polls and/or surveys that tell us what our fellow man is afraid to….I believe this is an example of the “undermining of trust and credibility” that exists within today’s corporate workplace.

  5. I went to a regional sales meeting in June where our senior management, as well as the C-Level executives from our vendor partners spoke, and each speaker (all but one was male) dropped the F-bomb in their speeches and used a liberal dose of other expletives along the way.  At our company, if you don’t curse, you’re not part of the ‘in crowd.’  This is a 150 year old multi-million dollar company recognized as one of Forbes ‘most trustworthy.’ I don’t particularly like the cursing, but it’s the culture.  It may also have something to do with being in New England . . . where curse words are common and far less offensive, the way they seem to be in Old England.
     
    I moved to Massachusetts from Illinois, where cursing is not heard very much (especially if you’re a woman, men probably curse amongst themselves more), and on my first visit to a doctor’s office I was greeted by an elderly receptionist who angrily slammed down the phone, looked at me and said, “Jesus F***ing Christ!” 
     
    I was shocked. 
     
    But now I’m used to it.

  6. @MsGazell Oh, I’m being silly…I read the article tho. Personal experience, some people can pull it off…I stay away from it at work.

  7. I am so glad to read an article on this. While it is directed to new job seekers, let me add that managers, directors, VP’s and C-level should not use colorful language as well. The new and existing employes learn from them. In the past few years I have noticed in a few companies where managers, etc feel that because they are managers they can adopt a “do as I say, not as I do” style. That is a failure style of management, and any company that allows it in any capacity is promoting failure. It’s time to buckle down in business and not only does it start with new employees, but existing ones, especially in management too.

  8. It may be a generalization, but, over the years in the workplace, I’ve noticed that swearing is used more often by younger employees and employees who were from the northeast.
     
    With younger adults, it seems that using what is considered a “swear” word no longer has the shock value that in years previous they once held. F bombs are thrown around so often without consideration for others or the place. In other words, I hear these words being commonly used in the workplace as if these folks were in a tavern.
    My feeling has always been that it is a matter of respect for another’s feelings. Throughout my career, I have always maintained that I never use foul or swearing language in the presence of another. If that language is used by them upon me, then I figure they are now open game for my own foul language.
    However, I stop short of linking the words with adjectives or adverbs that could be construed as a personal insult directed at a person(s) sex, ethnicity, religion, etc.
    Lastly, I have been one known to admonish those who freely use their foul language in the presence of children or those who I know find it inconsiderat, unprofessional or dis-respectful.

    •  @stormcellar But think about it….the number of drop-outs, low test scores, poor international ranking with other educated young people….you get what you graduate…and the great lessons they expectorate!

  9. I agree as well this is a relevant topic for those of us starting out career-wise. However, what also needs to be addressed is the utter lack of communication within the workplace about offensive language being offensive. People no longer utilize their natural, god-given ability of speech to voice their concerns in an adult manner a.k.a conflict resolution out of fear of conflict. Instead, there are polls and/or surveys that tell us what our fellow man is afraid to….I believe this is an example of the “undermining of trust and credibility” that exists within today’s corporate workplace.

  10. I’m confused  whom dictactes how we speak. The bible only says not to use gods name in vain. Society has forever told us when we can wear blk or white during season changes.I believe this is what’s taking place with how we speak now. The religious seem to be the ones speaking out about what they call swearing at work. I thought religion and goverment are seperate? I’ll continue to speak as I will…but never using gods name in vain. We have sooo many other issues in the USA to deal with come on people….pick and chioce your battles.

    •  @llynn Sorry, can’t agree. When a man learns to express himself in terms that define rather than inflame is clear evidence of intelligence and civility.

  11. I’m confused  whom dictactes how we speak. The bible only says not to use gods name in vain. Society has forever told us when we can wear blk or white during season changes.I believe this is what’s taking place with how we speak now. The religious seem to be the ones speaking out about what they call swearing at work. I thought religion and goverment are seperate? I’ll continue to speak as I will…but never using gods name in vain.

  12. @twitsanon thanks :) actually i don’t swear at work. i have excellent manners & a good sense of decorum. but i thank you for thinking of me.

  13. There are only two times I’ve sworn at work in my entire career-both to my immediate supervisor (and it was the “F” word). I was SO upset because of the circumstances, I had zero control over what I was saying.

  14. How sad. There should not even need to be an article written on this, because it’s never appropriate, ever, to swear at work.  You represent your company, regardless your position, whether you are at the office or out shopping, or anywhere. 
     

  15. Oh shit, fucking good thing that I own both the businesses I work at… here’s to being an ass-kicking entrepreneur.

      •  @MaryEPorterfield Whatever MaryEPorterfield – I am actually a very successful business person and currently getting a lot of free press and the talk of the town. Still need to stay humble and grateful. One thing I have learned is be kind to others and put yourself in their shoes. Have you ever heard of a joke? Loosen up!

        •  @Yeahright Not mad ‘atcha’. And kudos to your American spirit of entrepreneurship.  Unfortunately, words have weight, color and purpose. Would I expect those words from Donald Trump?  Nope.I think that we can call him ‘successful’.  Would I expect those words from Oprah Winfrey. Nope.  I think that we could consider her successful.  Would I expect those words maybe in a a biker’s club or or strip club.  Yes.  Words have association, too.  An employee will rise to the level of his/her employer.   Just saying: If you paint yourself into the box, don’t expect to be considered not in the box.   Love you still.

        •  @MaryEPorterfield You are reading a lot into every comment I make and then pontificating, Mary.. My initial comment was a JOKE – hello? Please don’t bandy around the word love… you don’t know me. You don’t know if I’m male or female. You don’t know what race I am or what side of the bed I sleep on, if I prefer men or women or if you would ever catch me cursing with clients or employees. You need a chill pill and I really don’t care what you think about me. I just had new clients leave my office and so far they are very happy with me – that’s all I care about…

  16. Frankly I am horribly unimpressed in ANY work place that tolerates cursing or profanity as common usage or acceptable speech. Whatever happened with plain old-fashioned ENGLISH?  Profanities or cursing just sound absolutely retarded. Okay, many of us get angered or frustrated at our work at times. It happens. Doesn’t mean we cannot conduct ourselves professionally. Some of us really need to mature….

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