I had a request recently from a public sector employee, for help in dealing with offensive bad language at work. She described herself as “normal, with a good sense of humour, and not overly prudish or ‘straight’”, but still she found the constant swearing from some of her colleagues tiresome and at times offensive. She was prompted to seek advice in tackling this because one outburst of invective had been overheard when she was speaking to on the phone to by a colleague, who commented on it. “Imagine if it had been one of our service users who overheard”, said my client.

She had a point, and a question; are we becoming de-sensitised to bad language and confusing reality TV with normality?

There was a time when the boundary between work and social life was clearly defined; the culture of an organisation ensured that unspoken rules about behaviour were picked up by new recruits and only in extreme cases did anyone need to be reprimanded or corrected about inappropriate behaviour like swearing, shouting, insults or open sexual innuendo.

But not any more.

The lines are blurred now, and people are increasingly using the language and behaviour more normally associated with hanging out with their mates in a bar, than sharing exchanges with colleagues in the office.

This is most prevalent in the 25-34 year olds; almost 80% in this group regularly swear, over 70% make up nicknames for colleagues and half think that familiarities like ‘love’ and ‘pet’ are OK at work.

As the people who conducted this survey point out, there is obviously a risk that such behaviour can spill over into bullying and complaints of sexual harassment. But that apart, do we really need to allow our working environment to become contaminated with bad language; the sort that most employees, swearers or not, would never use at home, and certainly shouldn’t at work?

I don’t know how widespread or troublesome this is, which is why I looked for research. You can find the original study I mentioned above here.

If you have a story to tell about swearing in the workplace please LEAVE A COMMENT below. If you want advice, email me, and if it is information on dealing with difficult behaviour of any kind you want, try Difficult People; a Guide to Handling difficult Behaviour.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.