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Is swearing at work ever okay?

ROB MORAN
Last updated 14:57 07/08/2012

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OPINION: Just last month, a Brisbane security guard was fired by his employers after he told his manager to "get f**ked".

He was eventually re-instated after Fair Work Australia challenged the dismissal, finding that it wasn't a legitimate sackable offence. As much as it pains me to side with a security guard, this was a momentous win for us all.

According to a recent Australian survey, 95 per cent of employees curse in front of co-workers. That's pretty much everybody in your office except those shy interns and the mute mailboy.

As a lifelong lover of salty language (my first words were reportedly "dad" and "bulls**t"; although the Spanish word for "dad" also means "potato chip", so who knows), these findings fill me with much joy.

The same survey also discovered that 64 per cent of employers think less favourably of employees with a nasty tongue. That's f**king rich considering the study's other major finding: the younger the person, the less likely they are to swear.

While this might challenge current generational stereotypes, it shouldn't come as a big surprise. Swearing in the workplace is inextricably linked to power, and junior clock-punchers don't have any.

In other words, a good indication that you're successfully climbing the corporate ladder is no longer a six-figure salary or a better office parking spot, but the fact that you can call one of your co-workers a "f**kface" and get away with it.

Other researchers have found that swearing at work might even be beneficial as it fosters team bonding. This seems more accurate.

Honestly, when was the last time you were offended after a co-worker let rip a creative barrage of expletives? Like that bland The Voice CD someone stuck in the office stereo, we're more likely to just tune it out rather than cover our ears and mutter "My word!" whenever our deskmate calls the photocopier a "dumb piece of s**t".

Plus, swearing humanises your workmates; it's always nice to find out that those dull office cyborgs sitting next to us are prone to the same insecurities and momentary exasperations as ourselves.

Having said all this, there are some workplaces where a solid stance on swearing needs to be taken, either for or against. Here are some examples:

The Navy: I've hung out with sailors (that makes me sound tough and courageous, but it was actually just an Xbox cruise), and they don't swear that much. They generally just say things like, "Oy, put that over there!" But still, they have a reputation to uphold. Sailors need to curse like sailors because "cursing like a midwife" doesn't have the same ring to it. Plus, it makes sense: you'd be droppin' expletives too if you had to fight pirates and lift heavy anchors every day (yeah, I have no idea what the Navy does).

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Doctors: Unlike the Navy, the medical profession thrives on a strict sense of decorum, and swearing has no place within that world. What we want from our doctors is a permanent matter-of-fact tone. Believe me, it's not nice to be awkwardly bent over the side of a gurney, only to hear the doc scream, "Argh, what the f**k is that?!"

Stockbrokers: If you wear a pinstripe suit to work, you might as well spend the majority of the day swearing 'cause you already look like a d**k. Those newspaper photos where they sadly hold their head in their hands while a big board of red numbers and tumbling bar graphs flash behind them are also basically the pictorial equivalent of the word, "F*****************k."

Childcare workers: While hearing toddlers say "son of a b**ch" might be the cutest thing ever, childcare workers should draw the line on cursing around kids (if for no other reason than their parents will sue you once they find out why lil' Sally keeps yelling "f**kwits!" at the dinner table). Scenario: Let's say a lovable child hands you a poorly scribbled over colouring-in sheet, where the trees are shaded yellow and Dora The Explorer's face is a dirty hue of green. As a sane human being, you may be tempted to say "Well, that looks f**king terrible...", but please don't. With your fake support, that child will one day grow up to become a corporate highflier, who... well, we all f**kin' know what happens next.

Ultimately though, all this light-hearted theorising is pointless. Let's face it: there's no more appropriate place to drop expletives than at work. Sometimes, when your inbox is overloading, the phone's non-stop ringing and you're feeling anxiously under the pump, you just need to exhale with a prickly turn of phrase. To borrow a line from dead comedian Lenny Bruce, work is a four-letter word.

- FFX Aus

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