Swearing in the workplace is rife, finds new survey

Some employees hear expletives more than 25 times a day, with the F-word the most popular – but experts say not all swearing is bad

Swearing in the workplace is so pervasive the average UK employee hears 11 swear words a day, new research has found – but experts said foul language was not necessarily always a bad thing for morale or teambuilding.

The poll of 1,800 workers found that 11 per cent heard more than 25 swear words a day, while 12 per cent admitted they never held back on their language at work.

A quarter (25 per cent) said they rarely restrained themselves from swearing, only occasionally self-censoring for fear of offending a colleague. Just 19 per cent said they tried never to swear in front of workmates.

The survey, conducted by The Leadership Factor for 4com, also found supervisors and line managers were rated by their colleagues as having the foulest language, followed by receptionists and admin staff.

Commenting on the findings, Yehuda Baruch, professor of management at the University of Southampton’s Business School, said that although swearing in the office was pervasive, it was more nuanced a topic than many believed.

Baruch, who has undertaken his own research on the subject, said swearing could lead to positive outcomes for individuals and teams including stress relief, better communication and stronger social bonds.

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“Although swearing is a bad thing – I don’t advocate swearing in the workplace – it does have several advantages and positive points, particularly in terms of expressing feelings,” Baruch said. 

The poll found the F-word was the most common expletive used, followed by ‘shit’, ‘bloody’ and ‘bollocks’.

Other popular swear words included ‘piss off’, ‘bastard’, ‘arsehole’ and ‘dick’.

Counterintuitively, Richard Stephens, senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University, said a number of studies had found swearing could actually constitute a form of politeness in some settings.

One study observing workers in a soap factory in New Zealand noted that they swore constantly at each other, but the swearing stopped when they spoke to someone outside their team. “It was coded language that suggested they belonged in a team,” said Stephens, who was not involved in the most recent study.

Stephens added there was also evidence people attributed more honesty to colleagues who swore – the idea being that it showed they were being unfiltered – but added this very much depended on the context. “Swearing can be weaponised and used to bully people [and] being on the receiving end of swearing is unpleasant,” Stephens said.

Baruch agreed, adding workers should be careful about how and where they used expletives. He said it was more acceptable to swear at objects rather than individuals, pointing to an employee at a bank who told him that she swore at her phone after finishing calls with customers.