Allowing staff to swear at work can benefit them and their employers, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia.
Prof Yehuda Baruch, professor of management at the UEA-based Norwich Business School (NBS), and graduate Stuart Jenkins looked at the use of expletives and swearing in the work place from a management point of view.
They identified the relevance and even importance of using non-conventional and sometimes uncivil language at work and how it may have a positive impact.
The study found regular use of profanity to express and reinforce solidarity among staff, enabling them to express their feelings, such as frustration, and develop social relationships.
The results of the study, Swearing at work and permissive leadership culture: when anti-social becomes social and incivility is acceptable, are published in the current issue of the Leadership and Organization Development Journal (Vol 28 Issue 6, pages 492-507).
The research suggests that while a ban on swear words and reprimanding staff might represent strong leadership, it would remove the source of solidarity and in doing so could lead to decreased morale and work motivation.
However, Prof Baruch and Mr Jenkins stress that abusive and offensive swearing should be eliminated where it generates greater levels of stress, rather than helping to relieve it.
Prof Baruch said the use of swearing would continue to rise in the workplace and become more of an issue for leaders and managers.
“The question is what should we do about it? We offer a model and some practical advice. Certainly in most scenarios, in particular in the presence of customers or senior staff, profanity must be seriously discouraged or banned” he said.
“However, our study suggested that in many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for developing and maintaining solidarity, and as a mechanism to cope with stress. Banning it could backfire.”
He added: “Managers need to understand how their staff feel about swearing. The challenge is to master the art of knowing when to turn a blind eye to communication that does not meet their own standards.”
Get the full story here.