May 08, 2018
Many managers and business owners ask themselves the question of if profanity is ever appropriate in the workplace as they create their company policies and decide how they are going to run their business. In some industries, there is always a strict ban on profanity while in other industries the idea of not being able to use profanity would probably be met with most employees using a few words that qualify as just that - profane!
Profanity in the workplace is a conversation that has long caused debates among professionals in various industries. In some work environments, profanity is associated with a lack of professionalism and met with great disdain. Other work environments may be more lenient with profanity, or profanity is seen as a way to vent, release stress, and bond coworkers together.
In the end,. while there are many different outlooks on banning profanity, in the end, a healthy balance is usually recommended and is the best way to go for most companies.
An All Out Ban, Really?:
If you are considering an all-out ban on profanity in the workplace, do you really want to be the one to have to enforce that? Every time an employee lets a word slip, do you really want to have to reprimand and discipline someone for that action? As a manager, is that the most possible productive use of your time?
In most cases, the answer is: no.
However, the context and the situation in which the employee is swearing is equally important. Cussing on a construction site or in a factor on the production floor with a few coworkers around is one thing. People are going to be talking and sharing stories or communicating about their work, and a few words are going to fly. That's relatively harmless and in many cases, it's the nature of the industry people are working in. Long as no one is offended or harmed, letting it go is likely to be the best option for everyone involved.
Keeping It All In Context Is Key:
However, while the occasional cussing or profane word in front of coworkers may not be all too harmful, there will have to be strict limits set on when swearing is not ever ok. For example, when working with customers, swearing is strictly prohibited.
Employees must remember that as long as that employee is wearing a logoed shirt or a uniform, they represent your name, brand, and company. In those cases, nothing but professionalism is expected. It's simply respecting the customer to not use profanity or other language that is questionable in their presence, especially because it's unknown if such language may offend the customer you are speaking to at any given time.
Another step that will have to be taken is to define "offensive". What is determined to be "offensive" will be different in various situations and circumstances, and in different environments and fields of work.
Having an open discussion with employees about what language they find "offensive" and what doesn't bother them might be one of the best ways to come up with a set of fair rules and guidelines for the use of profanity in your workplace.
The only place you never have to budge is when it comes to profanity or using language that is questionable in front of customers, clients, or outside parties (i.e. corporation management, government inspectors, vendors, etc.). When it comes to handling other people outside your specific business, then everyone must be treated with respect.
That includes no swearing or profanity. Ever. No exceptions.
Include Profanity Policies/Procedures In Your Workplace Manuals & Training Materials:
Including all of your company's profanity policies and procedures in the workplace manuals and training materials helps new employees be aware of the company's outlook on profanity from day one. This also gives current employees a place to refer to their company's policies for a refresher when they are not sure what the guidelines are or if they need a quick brush up.
This is also a great place for management to find policies and reminders on their company's profanity policy if they are hearing employees say things that may even be questionable according to the company's set policies.
Be Fair To All Employees:
If your company determines that certain words, terms, connotations, language, or speech is unacceptable in your workplace, you will need to be prepared to discipline all employees equally for using such language. It can't be OK for one person to use a word or term, but not another. Everyone needs to be treated fairly. Period.
Set An Example:
Especially if you work in management, if you want to ban certain terms or language from being used in the workplace, you have to follow those guidelines as well. No employee is going to take a rule seriously if management and other personnel are using those words, yet tell employees they cannot use the wors. Practicing what you preach will go a long way into getting employees to buy into what you're trying to sell as your company's policy.
Understand That Certain Circumstances May Require Profanity:
This might sound odd, but consider someone who is looking to file a harassment claim (especially for sexual misconduct or sexist treatment by a coworker, boss, manager, etc.) or any similar case. Sometimes, even if a word was banned by the company or management, someone might have used certain, a demeaning language with that employee. They have a right under the National Labor Relations Association to file their harassment or claim and "offensive" language cannot be prohibited if it is necessary to the hearing of that person's complaint or case.
In these cases, the profanity must be allowed to allow the person to lodge their complaints in an authentic and realistic way.
Ultimately, no one policy will work for every company when it comes to swearing, however, consider the policies are set. Discussing them with employees can help you determine what your employees see as fair as well as what they feel is offensive to them. Everyone coming together to discuss this topic of profanity in the workplace together can help everyone feel heard and respected. This can go a long way in setting up a policy that everyone can live with and everyone can respect.
For more information on setting a fair profanity policy for your company and workplace please feel free to contact us.