Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Profanity in the Workplace

I ran across this post written by my good friend and fellow HR professional Kevin Epley, SHRM-SCP, SPHR and thought it would be an excellent guest post because I have ran into this problem in the past myself.
As a Human Resources professional have you ever found yourself doing battle with the problem of profanity in your workplace? In my industry, Automotive Retail Sales and Service, there seems to be a “good old boy” and “that’s the way it’s always been” culture that has allowed for profanity. It goes against our goals of culture change, continued diversity and renewed customer service strategies. Besides, it’s simply unpleasant. And, what does “profanity in the workplace” have to do legislative news? I’ll get to that.

Short of becoming the “profanity Nazi” (Seinfeld Soup Nazi episode) or HR as overly parental, I wrestle with the prevalence and the problems of profanity in our workplace. In researching for support, I’ve discovered it’s more common a problem than first thought. It doesn’t help that Millennials, and even younger workers, are increasingly tolerant of profanities presence. Or, perhaps, I’m becoming a “prude” in my advancing years?

So, I thought I’d share a few of the key takeaways I’ve discovered from this topic of Profanity in the Workplace. I’ll begin with NLRB’s role in profanity. It can be considered employee’s protected concerted activity, Hooter’s Restaurant court case. Or not, City of Portland 2013 case, on grounds of religion. The hard and fast rule, of which there are few, profanity may not be in violation of EEO guidelines explicitly related to profanity of a religious, racial, ethnic, and gender-based nature. Companies should also have a zero-tolerance policy for language regarding sexual acts. Stop the “F-bombs”! Another hard and fast rule, one in which many employees have found themselves in disciplinary hot water.

So, what is an employer to do, ignore or develop policy that can lead to their own F-bomb, “Firing”? Policy should consider the type of industry, culture and amount of direct customer contact. Evaluate the context of the profanity. Was it a rare outburst resulting from an unusual negative work outcome? Or, was it part of an ongoing, sustained feud between employees that became intimidating, hostile and could result in a charge of workplace harassment, or violence? Put policy in writing. Be concise, specific and clear about expectations and outcomes from your employees. Train supervisors and managers in handling the subject of profanity. As always, run policy and enforcement issues by company legal to be sure you’re on solid legal footing.

I’ll leave you with a few eye-opening statistics I stumbled upon that help me better understand why profanity may be better left at home, in the car, or fall silent. A recent CareerBuilder survey discovered;

  • 81% of employers believe cursing brings an employee's professionalism into question
  • 64% of employers think less of an employee who swears repeatedly
  • 57% said they are less likely to promote someone who uses curse words
  • 71% of employers said that swearing shows a "lack of control," while 68% says swearing demonstrates a "lack of maturity"
  • Perhaps most interestingly, says spokesperson Jennifer Grasz, is that 54% of employers said that swearing made their employees appear "less intelligent" 
It should be noted that there are some that believe profanity in the workplace is a positive thing. 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. “Profanity, by itself, is not going to keep someone from the promotion they deserve,” says Mr. Connors.

 “After all, the Mythbusters confirmed that swearing helps you to tolerate pain. So, no getting mad at people when they smash their finger with a hammer and let bad words fly.” Nonetheless, I’ve never found profanity to be a positive thing.