Cursing at Work: Replacing Profanity with Professionalism

If you think that cursing at work is harmless, think again: using foul language in the office may also be harming your career. A 2012 nationwide survey by CareerBuilder found that over half of employers (57 percent) said that they’d be less likely to give someone a promotion who swears on the job.  

Perhaps even more significantly, a vast majority of employers (81 percent) think that when employees use profanity at work, it calls their professionalism into question. If you’re not convinced yet, here are some other reality checks for workplace swearers:

•             71% of employers believe swearing at work shows lack of control.
•             68% believe it demonstrates lack of maturity.
•             54% believe it makes employees look less intelligent.

The good news is, by using your words in a professional, calm and concise manner, without any of the @*&% and *%#!, can leave a positive impression on your colleagues, clients and your boss. Here are a few tips:

Retrain your brain. While you may have developed a habit of cursing around your family and friends, when you’re on the clock, it’s a different story. Resorting to foul language when things get rocky shows a lack of respect for those that are in earshot. Practice self-control and keep your image intact.

Control your temper. Often what’s behind swearing is an outburst prompted by a poorly managed outburst. Yes, co-workers can sometimes be frustrating, and bosses can try your patience from time to time, too. But what separates professionals from those who use profanity is the ability to control their emotions. Blurting out a curse word when under stress does nothing to help the situation—as the CareerBuilder survey shows, it only makes you look bad.

Be a role model. No matter where you sit on the pecking order at work, you are still responsible to whoever is watching and learning from your behavior. From senior level executives to brand new hires, falling back on swear words to communicate a point is unprofessional and lacks self-control. Allow your ability to express a thought to be the example for others to emulate.

Look above you. A good rule of thumb is to think ahead to the next level of your career by acting like those who are already at that level. In other words, if you’re a director who wants to be a vice-president someday, then act like a vice-president—one who has command of their language and their behavior.

Ask yourself “why?” Cursing is a habit that adds nothing positive to a conversation, and in fact almost always leaves a negative impression. If you find yourself guilty of  frequent profanity, you might do some soul-searching as to the reasons behind it. Are you trying to project a certain image, perhaps based on trying to appear “cool” or above it all? Is your habit a leftover from the college dorm scene, and you just haven’t gotten around to upgrading your language? Whatever the reason, knowledge is power: by understanding the source of your foul language, you can take steps to stop it.

Reward yourself for change. Since research shows you may be more likely to advance in your career if you don’t swear in the office, why not reward yourself for changing your ways? Ask for help from your family and friends and make it a positive step in the right direction. With any luck, a promotion is in your future.

To read more about the report from CareerBuilder on how swearing at work can harm your career prospects, visit  


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.

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