18 October 2007

Swearing beats work stress

Would you like to tell your &%*#* boss what you think of him? A new study says swearing in the workplace is a real stress reliever.

Workers are going to swear, and probably more and more - so why not allow it or even encourage it if it's of benefit? This is one conclusion of a study made at a British university.

It says regular use of profanity can express and reinforce solidarity among staff, enabling them to express feelings such as frustration, and develop social relationships.

So "using non-conventional and sometimes uncivil language at work" may have a positive impact, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia in the eastern English city of Norwich.

Managerial viewpoint
Yehuda Baruch, professor of management at the UEA-based Norwich Business School, and graduate Stuart Jenkins said they looked at the use of swearing in the workplace from a management point of view.

"Increasingly," 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.

"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.

"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."

Baruch said the reasearch had shown employees use swearing on a continuous basis, but not necessarily in a negative, abusive manner.

"Most of the cases were reported by employees at the lower levels of the organisational hierarchies and it was clear that executives use swearing language less frequently.

"The primary issue for management is whether or not to apply a tolerant leadership culture to the workplace and deliberately allow swearing."

Age and gender
Younger managers and professionals were more tolerant in what they accepted as ethical behaviour, suggesting that age may be a moderator for the spreading of swearing language to the workplace.

Women also swore more than might traditionally be expected, especially among themselves, Baruch said.

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). - (Sapa-dpa)

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