Does Your Office Need a Swear Jar?

Cursing at Work

My grandma used words like fudge and sugar when she swore. Now, it’s not uncommon to hear the F-word, D-bag and other s**t while at work. A friend recently mentioned being shocked when a co-worker cussed multiple times during a marketing kick-off meeting. And, another said that her three-year-old dropped the F-bomb after hearing her teacher say it at daycare.

So, is it OK to curse at work? Does profanity at work make you a better manager? When is it appropriate? Does it depend on the workplace environment?

Cursing at Work:  Men & Women

According to a 2012 CareerBuilder study, men and women both swear on the job, but men more so than women. These findings differ from my own unscientific study (asking friends via Facebook) in which more of my female friends self-admittedly drop F-bombs, while my male friends allege their prudence.

Is Swearing at the Workplace Bad or Acceptable?

Within different professions there are varying levels of acceptance, a swear-o-meter of sorts. I think most of us can agree that if you work around children, you should not curse on the job. However, I could understand mechanics and rock bands using more crude language. Sources tell me that swearing is rampant in both the television industry and on the campaign trail. No real shocker there, since Los Angeles made CareerBuilder’s list of U.S. cities in which workers are most likely to curse and Washington, D.C. topped that list.

When working in candidate, client or customer-facing positions, it’s generally accepted that cursing is unacceptable and unprofessional. In fact, one friend mentioned that on his first day at a financial services firm the newbies were explicitly told that “cursing was in bad taste.”

More Than a Cursing Jar. Profanity is Offensive

Unlike social situations, you don’t necessarily have a choice as to who you have to talk or listen to while at work. Using a more colorful vocabulary may be offensive to some people, and in extreme cases, could borderline on harassment.

My personal view on cursing — while in a corporate setting or business-related meeting — is that it’s inappropriate and you should be able to convey your message without expletives. One of my former co-workers summed it up nicely when she said, “I can’t think of a reason why that (cursing at work) would be appropriate. It’s the antithesis of professionalism.”


Using swear words doesn’t make you cooler, smarter or more likely to be promoted. My advice when it comes to swearing at work: better to avoid it than paying the potential consequences. Though, I suppose it all comes down to the environment, the situation, the people and your own comfort level. And yes, on rare occasions, I’ve been known to swear at work, but it’s typically at my effin computer and no one else is around.

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Shannon Smedstad

Shannon Smedstad has nearly 20 years of recruitment, employer branding, and communications experience. Currently, she serves as the Principal Employer Brand Strategist at exaqueo. Previously, she held employer branding and recruiting leadership roles at CEB and GEICO. She’s a work at home mom raising two awesome girls who also enjoys reading, running, leading a Girl Scout troop, and her morning coffee. You can connect with Shannon on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Reader Interactions


  1. Jessica Miller-Merrell says


    I was in NYC last week keynoting a working mother event talking about social media. I said the word, bullshit on stage which have in the past at a couple different events. It’s funny because I talk this way in casual conversation even write on the blog sometimes like this. The reaction is not always good, but this event the use of bullshit was a positive one. I say the word, to get attention and to make a point about how business is changing. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea.

    Ten different people approached me in person to thank me for being so honest and refreshing and even daring to use bullshit during my speech. They have never heard a woman cuss on stage which for me is also true unless I’m at a comedy club. I think my tolerance for the words stems from a couple different things: 1) I’ve worked in industries that were male dominated and cussing was a common thing as part of a motivational speech by a manager and 2) I work for me. I don’t have to worry about getting the axe from my employer if I say the wrong thing. I work for myself.

    I do try to be tolerant of others but I’m also increasingly aware of the things my 3 year old picks up. We don’t typically cuss at home. It’s more of a speaking and writing thing with me.

    Thanks for this article. I think it’s good debate.


  2. Stephen says

    Cursing, or lack of, is one of the benchmarks of your corporate culture. Cursing in the professional setting has two effects; those who see it as gritty honesty and those who see it as a lack of sophistication. Either are acceptable, provided it doesn’t conflict with the values and image the organization strive to project. However, you’re more likely going to stand out by cursing in a G-Rated culture than those don’t curse in more relaxed environments (unless you use the dreaded kid-swears instead, such as “fudge”).

    If the words people choose are important to the organization, make clear rules or guidelines and give people a chance to edit themselves. Don’t let an overly sensitive or unsophisticated manager create an issue. Most people will take their culture cues from their direct report, so make sure the rules apply to everyone. You don’t want a culture for some that doesn’t apply to everyone—it doesn’t work that way.


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