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How to Manage Swearing at Work


LAST UPDATED: April 7, 2023

It’s fair to say that swear words are no longer the taboo they once were and, despite what your mother told you when you were 7, using the occasional naughty word won’t actually result in no visit from Santa this year. However, there is a tricky path to navigate when using this kind of language in the workplace. Yes, many words that would once have caused great offence are now a part of our everyday language, but it is probably still not advisable to go around your office dropping the f-bomb.

The thing is that swearing can be very subjective. Words that you might not even give a second thought to, could be highly offensive to someone else. Also, if you have varying generations in your office then it’s best to be cautious with your language. If you are unsure whether a word is safe to use, then it’s probably not and maybe it’s better to keep it to yourself.

66% of millennials openly swear at work, compared to only 54% of workers over 30.*

*Source: Wrike.

You also need to keep in mind that a lot of swear words stem from a far less inclusive time and hold connotations of homophobia, racism, sexism, blasphemy, etc. These words have become so commonplace that they have almost lost their meaning, but the fact is that they still do mean those things and can be incredibly hurtful.

Also, no matter what you were told when you were a teenager, swearing does not make you cool. In fact, especially in the workplace, it can make you seem out of control, unprofessional and inexperienced. The odd, strategically placed ‘Bloody Nora!’ may actually have a positive response, but simply having a potty mouth is not an attractive quality and can lead people to question your abilities.

More than 50% of employers would be less likely to promote someone who swears at work.*

*Source: CareerBuilder.

The main message here is that you are at work, not in a bar. So think before you speak and remember that while you are within working hours you are a representative of that company. You might be angry, over-excited, or stressed, but think before you vocialise that in a flurry of expletives. Maybe the person two desks down is on the phone to a client. Maybe your director is standing behind you. Maybe your workmate is offended by that type of language. It’s really not worth the risk.

Here are a few things you can do as an employer to deal with profanity in the workplace:

1. Have a policy

This may feel excessive but if you are suffering with a particularly disrespectful office or person it might be necessary. Having an actual policy on bad language will usually make people stop and think, and will act as a good enough deterrent that you never have to actually invoke it.

2. Don’t wait for a complaint

If you are aware of the bad language then be proactive. Do not assume that just because nobody has complained it means that nobody is offended. There could be many reasons why they’ve not spoken up and by the time they do come to you it could have developed into an official HR issue.

3. Do not use bad language yourself

If you swear at work then it gives your employees carte blanche to do so themselves. Lead by example and always keep your language professional.


If you enjoyed this post, then check out our Mind Your Manners guide for employers and employees. It talks about other things people do at work that they really shouldn’t, from ghosting to gossiping, and pulling a sickie to procrastinating. Download it now.