I started a new job as a software developer around 3 months ago in a small IT department of a 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?

EDIT May 2020

As this question has suddenly got a lot of attention years after the original I thought I would give an update. I reported this issue to HR, They were in their words "Shocked" and would deal with it.

2 days later the culprit came to me and told me I was a fing bard for reporting him to HR and that I would "get my comeuppance".

It turns out he and the HR manager were good drinking buddies, and he had told the guy who complained.

Two weeks later I handed in my notice and never looked back. To my knowledge the company went bust not long after so I am well rid

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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. Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 23:42
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    Thats not just swearing then, thats bullying.
    – user9158
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 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
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 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
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 0:36
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    I don't personally have an issue with language like this, which isn't to say I think its appropriate all the time, just that industrial language doesn't offend me per se. However, leaving that aside the manner in which you're being spoke to in your examples is horrific. In both cases, the language being used and the tone of some of the comments, you need to tell people that you find it unacceptable, especially if people use that language with one another and not just you.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 13:16

5 Answers 5


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 make people 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 "shit 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. Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 23:55
  • I updated your answer the use of the language was rather coarse I think this provides the context you were looking for with out being blantantly offensive to someone just finding the site. Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 15:12
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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
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 4:16

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.


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.


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.
    – user9158
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 9:06
  • I answered the question, not the comments. Commented May 28, 2020 at 2:27

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.

  • I'd like to see those people actually putting cash in your box :) Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 10:56
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    LOL. It's an office, not fing Sunday school. A 'swear box' only works if people want to curb their swearing. But most adults don't give a f about swearing. Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 15:53
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    This doesn't seem like a serious answer. Maybe more appropriate as a comment.
    – Rex M
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 19:35
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    In my experience, this works if the person with the issue is the person of authority in the group - like the teacher, or the team leader - AND if the overall morale norm is expected to omit the problem behavior. I'm not sure it's a viable answer in this case, as some people may think the bad language is OK, and the question asker is not the leader so can't easily dictate the rules for the whole group. Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 21:12

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