The F-bomb in the Office?

Casual profanity has permeated our language, even at the office, leaving some confused about what’s okay to say.

The root of the problem may lie in the way different generations interpret the use of profanity. Benjamin Bergen, author of What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, points out that although language is always in flux, today marks the largest gap ever between generational use of curse words. Bergen explains that if a millennial checks his Twitter feed before work and sees the f-word dozens or even hundreds of times, it’s more likely for that individual to use the word later at work when, say, complaining about an empty coffee pot. While some co-workers overhearing the f-bomb may not blink an eye, others, perhaps older colleagues, may take offense.

Another reason for the conundrum surrounding cursing is that today’s young workers do not consider the f-bomb offensive when used to express enthusiasm (That was f-ing awesome!) or as an adjective to indicate a reaction (What the f did she mean by that?) In fact, a recent survey found that 70% of millennials say they curse at work; about a third claim cursing actually helps a team bond. What millennials do find offensive is using the f-bomb to intimidate or berate (You better up your f-ing game or you are out!)

However, some experts contend that use of such language in the workplace does not reflect well on the speaker’s judgment. Many conversations that include the f-word occur between colleagues in common work areas where the profanity can be easily overheard. Although plenty of workers may find a chat splattered with cursing routine, others could consider the practice workplace harassment.

Where to draw the line?


  1. In which work situations should you never use a curse word?
  2. What are the pros and cons of policies that regulate workplace language?
  3. What is the best way to judge whether to inject profanity into a conversation?

4 thoughts on “The F-bomb in the Office?

  1. Lou Cartier

    Omigosh, colleagues. I am finding it difficult to think of a time when profanity is appropriate, sanctioned, condoned, or tolerated in a business setting. Leaders can and ought to show example and counsel novices to … do better. Consider, if you must, the less demonstrative or more formal types within hearing distance. Need they be subjected to locker room coarseness? Is that the example you wish to be setting? If it is, then leaders bear the burden of a frank conversation in the workplace.

    1. bizcombuzz

      Lou, we live in coarse times. It appears that the workplace is not immune to a public discourse that continues to test the boundaries of respectability and decency. I agree with you that instructors and businesspeople ought to set a positive example to counterbalance this trend.

  2. Carole Nevels

    I stress to my college students that profanity is never acceptable in the workplace and certainly not in my classroom. Use of such language is indicative of a limited vocabulary.
    When I taught computer classes at a men’s prison in California, profanity was not permitted in my classroom. I did not use profanity when I spoke to them, and expected the same respect. Since the class was a privilege, I had no problems.

    1. bizcombuzz

      Carole, I agree. But it does seem that many workplaces are more tolerant of such language. In my classroom, like yours, there is no place for rudeness or profanity.


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