Swearing in the workplace - are you for f***ing real?!

We had a lecture with a lot of f***ing in it this week. The talk was on cursing in the workplace. I am sure each and every one of us can relay an example of when we cursed or have heard cursing at work. Dr Nick Wilson did his PHD on the subject of how swearing can evoke an emotional response. His workplace setting was a New Zealand rugby team with the governing structure of team management, players, fans, the media, etc.

At the beginning of the lecture, I wasn't expecting this to be the workplace, but it makes sense. He discussed how swear words are very rarely used for their literal meaning. For example, the f word means to have sex with somebody or to ruin something. A context in which the word might be used in a sporting workplace was to motivate, for example in a pre-game talk a coach might roar “let's f**king go!”

In an office, a colleague does something for you; covers a shift, brings you a coffee, whatever, does saying “thank you so much” or “thank you so f**king much” have more emphasis. Personally, depending on the context, I will use the latter because I feel like it expresses more gratitude.

I think they keyword is context and your relationship to the person. If I get hired for a new job, I am not going to thank my new employers with the f word.

I was taken aback by the lecturer cursing while speaking to students, it's not something that I am used to. The fact that the talk was given online made it even more surreal. Although I would have loved to have had this lecture in person, the guy was a fast talker, therefore I availed of my hack of copying and pasting subtitles for my notes (with correct referencing of course). Seeing swear words pop up on the screen was strange. In saying that, I found I engaged more with the lecture and the lecturer/student barrier was broken down.

At the end, one guy in the class thanked him by saying “thank you so f***ing much” to which he busted out laughing.

Is it informal though? Should students and lecturers curse among each other? Should it happen in the workplace? The conversation came up in my Limerick house a few weeks back. My flatmate never curses, ever. To her it’s disrespectful. I, on the other hand, am notorious for cursing. Never to cause offence to anyone, just to add some added emphasis if something isn't going my way.

If I drop something or if I think something is outrageously stupid, I will swear. I think it helps relieve stress. I am always intrigued when people curse in their native language. Although I don’t understand, I can feel the frustration by the tone of voice, how the words follow in quick succession.

In Belgium, I often heard “putin” thrown around the office or quietly muttered, followed by and eye roll. At work, I sometimes hear the chef cursing in his native Polish. The other day, he was particularly struggling with several orders and a fryer that was out of action. Later he explained that none of it was directed at me, just general frustration. I laughed. Cursing doesn’t bother me, if that’s what helps one vent then so be it.

Nick carried out his analysis on the team by placing microphones on the coaches and players and recording the discourse, noting the number of times they cursed. What was interesting was that, upon reflection, the coaches did not even realise they were cursing. It wasn't planned but just happened in the situation. This is interesting and relatable but can be problematic.

I was not shocked by this, my friend’s little girl has started listening and repeating. I now get the "look" if I curse when little ears are present. I am doing it unintentionally of course, but it is scary the number of times I swear without realising. To conclude the lecture, we were asked if the stigma surrounding cursing in the workplace should be reduced? I can see the merits. When I curse with someone, the formal barrier is broken and, if that is a manager's aim, then maybe cursing in the workplace could be beneficial. The danger is that, if not monitored, swearing could be used in a correctional manner where it could cause offence.

Although I see the merits, I think swearing can sometimes cause the message to be lost so I don’t think it is appropriate in the workplace. This is coming from someone who has tried and failed to stop swearing, but I will keep trying.


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