Whether it’s the printer that jams every time you’re on deadline or the employee who messed up a project for the fourth time this month, there are many things in the workplace that can rile us to the point of exploding. But even if you’re at your boiling point, it’s best if you hold your tongue if you want to keep your job.
A new study by CareerBuilder.com shows that 81% of employers believe cursing brings an employee’s professionalism into question.
The study showed that 64% of employers think less of an employee who swears repeatedly, and 57% said they are less likely to promote someone who using curse words. A further 71% of employers said that swearing shows a “lack of control,” while 68% says swearing demonstrates a “lack of maturity.” Perhaps most interestingly, says CareerBuilder.com spokesperson Jennifer Grasz, is that 54% of employers said that swearing made their employees appear “less intelligent.”
“It’s all about perception, and cursing does influence how managers view people,” says Grasz. “If it’s a one-time thing, it’s not going to be a big deal, but if cursing becomes a pattern, then it starts to show a lack of intelligence and can show that you’re someone who doesn’t have the ability to handle a tough situation.”
Managers generally feel that employees who curse are unable to be calm and are not thoughtful, Grasz says. Employees with potty mouths are viewed as impulsive and are less likely to be promoted into a leadership role, she adds.
“You’re only going to get promoted if you’re seen as someone who has measured reactions to situations. The higher up the ladder you go, the more likely you are to be facing clients and executives, and you can’t be someone who flies off the handle.
At the end of the day, Grasz says it all goes back to professionalism. Before handing out promotions or special assignments, managers are looking for candidates with a professional demeanor and excessive cursing can reduce the appeal.
Of course, what is considered appropriate language depends on the workplace environment and company culture, says Steven Raz, co-founder and managing partner at Cornerstone Search Group, in Parsippany, N.J.
“In most cases, cursing in the workplace is really kind of a death wish. It’s a one-way ticket to an exit interview.” Don’t make managers worry if your behavior is going to invite lawsuits, after all, Raz says, “people who curse frequently are seen as an “HR nightmare,” he says.
While it’s uncommon, Raz says he has known employees who were fired because of their bad language habits. However, the curse words are typically a “symptom” of a problem rather than the problem itself.
“We have heard of swearing being a part of a bigger picture. It taught us that you really can’t let your guard down and feel like it’s okay to start using this type of language. You may see that your co-workers are cursing right and left, but they could be on thin ice, and you don’t want to get painted with the same brush.”
With that said, Raz adds that everyone will let their temper get the best of them on occasion—just don’t make it a habit. “Even if it’s just a one-time thing, you can still make the people around you uncomfortable. We all make mistakes, but try to avoid it when you can, because there really is no room for that type of language in a professional setting.”
However, Adam Connors, partner at Spire Search Partners in Hoboken, N.J., disagrees– he says that swearing in the workplace can actually be a positive or neutral thing, depending on the context.
“Are you swearing at someone, or are you telling a story that requires some emphasis?” says Connors. “If you’re using it to add levity or convey emotion, then it’s fine.”
Employees who throw out the occasional “f-bomb” shouldn’t stress too much about getting passed over for a promotion, says Connors.
“If you’ve used a few swear words before and that hinders you from getting a promotion, then I’m going to suggest that you’re in the wrong field,” says Connors. “At a certain point, a workplace can be so intolerant that you can’t be true to yourself.”
At the end of the day, Connors says that most companies realize “we’re all grownups,” and that 9 out of 10 times, using curse words will not hurt anyone’s career.
“It’s a big bad world out there. We are not in church. Everyone swears,” he says.
In fact, in some fields, Connors says if you didn’t curse that it might damage your career.
“If you’re sitting on the trading desk and you’ve just lost thousands of dollars, it might hinder your promotion if you didn’t start using some bad language,” he laughs. “You just have to be able to turn that off when you go upstairs to talk to HR.”