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I started a new job as a software developer around 3 months ago in a small IT department of a Window Factory in Wales.

Since then, I have become increasingly concerned about the level of language that is in ordinary use, not just from the "workers" on the shop floor, but also from managers and office staff.

I come from a more traditional office job where the worst language would be the occasional "oh bloody hell" or similar. I find that people swear at me in the course of their daily language (i.e. I don't believe they mean to offend), but I feel that it is disrespectful to me to use that kind of language. I am not a prude - I use the F word in ordinary conversation - but I don't think it has a place in the workplace.

I am considering going to HR, but I believe that it is so ingrained into ordinary use that it won't do any good. Is there anything else that you might suggest I do?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Jim G., CMW, jcmeloni, jmac, bethlakshmi Mar 17 at 17:29

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Swear at you or swear near you? There is a world of difference between "This coffee is shit" and "You are shit". –  Lego Stormtroopr Mar 3 at 23:34
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An example: Today I was asked to go into a managers office (Not my manager) to explain why his request was classed a lower priority. I quote "I know you are doing this project but you f****ing techy guys need to realise that the world doesnt f****ing stop turning because you want it too". Also in general conversation about things I have had "jokey" brush offs like "F*** of back to your den". I dont think they are deliberately being offensive in their tone of voice but I feel it shows disrespect to me. –  Steven Wood Mar 3 at 23:42
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Thats not just swearing then, thats bullying. –  Lego Stormtroopr Mar 3 at 23:51
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No offense intended, but is the issue the profanity, or is it the disrespect (which you keep bringing up in comments)? It sounds to me like you've never worked in a blue collar industry, and are just out of your element. Manufacturing generally has far stronger language use, and chances are that you are going to get it even worse if you start complaining to HR. –  jmac Mar 4 at 0:21
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@Neuro, it isn't just the UK. It also applies in at least Japan and the US as well. In my experience, people new to the industry who try to fight back before understanding the difference in culture tend to get it even worse, because it is disrespectful to the people who have been working there to assume you know better from the start. –  jmac Mar 4 at 0:36

6 Answers 6

up vote 23 down vote accepted

When is swearing not ok at work?

If people are swearing at you, that is bullying and is unacceptable. After your comment, it seems like that is what is going on. If that is happening, document it and speak with HR and get that sorted first.

Telling someone to "go back to their den", swearing or not, is bullying. That language isn't acceptable, and the best thing to do is to raise it with your manager. Workplace bullying is a huge problem for management for a host of reasons, and shouldn't be tolerated. If you management isn't prepared to help you with this problem, then speak with a workplace lawyer in your area.

Similarly, the use of sexual or gendered curses such as:

'dick', 'bitch' or 'cunt' *

aren't just casual swearing but also can indicate issues of casual sexism that can be toxic and make men and women uncomfortable as well as being a sexual harassment minefield.


When is swearing ok at work?

However, sometimes swearing is ok if the company's culture deems it appropriate. If its not uncommon for people to drop a casual curse word in the course of their day to day speech about a project, the coffee or sports on the weekend, then if that is undirected then that's the culture they've chosen.

Talking about the "s&#! coffee *" at a new cafe is relatively harmless and common, and depending on your beliefs may not be worth pursuing. Sometimes it is best to accept that some swearing is culturally common and acceptable. Remember at one point "damn" and "jeez" were words worth of being reprimanded for, while now they are quite common. So common they are the only curses I haven't italicized and asterisked them in this answer.


What can you do to reduce swearing in the workplace?

  • Speak with some other people and see if you can get a general indication of how people feel about the cursing. If enough others are uncomfortable with the swearing, then raise it as an issue with management.
  • If you get the indication that others are comfortable with the language, realise that you aren't suited for that job and find an environment you are comfortable in. Sometimes trying to change a whole workplace culture is not worth the hassle.
  • Or if the job is that good, and the cursing is light hearted then roll with it, don't participate or escalate, but accept that sometimes there are sacrifices to be made.

* Apologies, but if you are discussing swearing, sometimes you need to include examples of swear words. Its a fine line, but I'd rather people comment before removing these.

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This is a really good answer that gives me some ideas. I dont feel that it is "Bullying" per se, it just seems to me to be a general lack of professionalism and respect for the fellow employee. It often seems to me that they consider the language to be part of their ordinary speech that they use so often that it has lost its "Bad Factor". Anyway I shall definitely take some of these ideas into consideration, thanks for helping. –  Steven Wood Mar 3 at 23:55
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*comments removed*: Please avoid using comments for extended discussion. Instead, please use The Workplace Chat. On Workplace SE, comments are intended to help improve a post. Please see What "comments" are not... for more details. –  jmort253 Mar 20 at 4:16

I would treat this like I treat a lot of similar issues such as:

  • dirty plates
  • messy desks
  • dirty sinks
  • old stuff in the fridge
  • messy bathrooms

etc, etc.

They are all about having a reasonable and pleasant workplace.

I personally believe they all have the same solution:

You talk to the most senior person in the chain, e.g. director, vice-president, etc. You schedule some time with them and then when you meet you tell that about the issue.

They either agree with you, and if they do THEY should make annoucements about such issues. Or they disagree in which case you learn to live with it or get another job.

Basically you want to make sure that you're not in the equation.

This seemingly trivial issue (for some) is one of the things that senior management is paid to do.

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I have read the example the OP gave in the comments:

"I know you are doing this project but you f*ing techy guys need to realise that the world doesnt f*ing stop turning because you want it too". Also in general conversation about things I have had "jokey" brush offs like "F* of back to your den"

Be clear on what your issue with this is, I think you confuse profanity with abuse. My opinion is that that kind of language is offensive, not so much because of the profanity, but because it is low level abuse. The subtext is, "you're not important". "I can treat you like an animal". Some people find that kind of behavior funny. Well they can have their laugh or two, then I'd vote with my feet. I don't want to be around people who relate to me that way, why would I want to tolerate that? No way. My physical and emotional health are my number one priority. I would need extreme levels of pay to work with those kinds of people, and STILL I wouldn't be there long. Your skills are marketable. Even if they weren't, I would still advise you to look for another job.

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None of this sounds abusive to me. It sounds more like they are brushing you off because your department has not been very helpful in the past. They are probably evaluated on whether they can get orders produced on time. If you aren't helping them to that, then you are in the way. Figure out a way to be of service to the folks who do the work that brings in the money that keeps the business open and maybe their attitude will change.

If you run to HR and complain, then you will really be on their s-list.

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How is being told to "f**k of back to your hole" isn't abusive? Thats entirely inappropriate language for anywhere, let alone a professional workplace. –  Lego Stormtroopr Mar 5 at 9:06

Get a swear box on your desk, mark it as being for something like Children in Need and start collecting some serious cash for your chosen charity. Ask people to swear more often, so long as they pay up.

Maybe make the swear box pay out, so if someone says 'drat' instead of something deemed a swear word, they get a deduction on that 'per-f*king-haps' they ended their sentence on. Also keep a chart 'Tom has 17 f*ks, Derek has 134...' with weekly goals. Ask people to swear more if they are not f**king keeping up, the lazy tw*ts. Maybe have some prizes for those that swore the most, e.g. a Pudsey badge.

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LOL. It's an office, not f***ing Sunday school. A 'swear box' only works if people want to curb their swearing. But most adults don't give a f*** about swearing. –  kevin cline Mar 4 at 15:53
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This doesn't seem like a serious answer. Maybe more appropriate as a comment. –  Rex M Mar 4 at 19:35

Software Development is a very stressful job. Developers are usually very intelligent, but often forced to do stupid, repeatable tasks. In each case the time taken by each task is very unpredictable, causing people to feel under pression (I've said it will take 2 days, hoping to finish it in 4 hours, but it took 1 week and I'm still in cornfield etc.).

Additionally most software developers have lower than average social skills. It makes coping with stress for them especially hard. From my experience, swearing is quite typical for IT industry.

There are some developers who don't swear, but there are some that swear very hardly. While it's possible to unlearn swearing (I've managed to almost unlear it), it's a hard way, mostly requiring stress and emotion controll.

If you'll directly criticize swearing collegues, you can arger them and made them swearing even more, and you risk become hated. It's worth trying joking about swears once you've heared (jokes release stress) but in more severe cases there's a need for stress-control and emotion-control programs.

Sometimes swearing becomes a corporate culture, encouraged by management as a cheap way of releasing negative emotions. In that case there's not more you can do about it. You can try to speak with them anyway. However, unless you're a woman, it can be hard to convince them that's a serious issue for you.

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-1 for that last line. –  rbwhitaker Mar 4 at 19:05

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