For one reason or another, it has become part of mainstream culture to use expletives. In the entertainment industry, we have Cee Lo Green’s hit song, “@&*# You” (or “Forget About You”). Pink has her own with “@&*#in’ Perfect.” On The New York Times Best Seller List are “______ Finish First” and “____ My Dad Says,” which started as a Twitter feed and now has also crossed over into a television sitcom.
What is it that has us celebrating the expletive? One place where expletives can get you into trouble, of course, is the workplace. If you want to be safe, you’re better off speaking the Queen’s language and leaving expletives for elsewhere.
Here are just a few reasons to be careful about what comes out of your mouth at the office:
You could get fired for creating a hostile work environment. It may have been an innocent sentence to you, but someone else may have felt harassed and compromised. HR doesn’t need much to feel like they have to get rid of the problem—which could be you and your choice of words.
Someone is always evaluating you. As much as we might think no one is paying attention, someone always is—and evaluating you for the job that’s the next level up. If your language is best suited for the boiler room, then that might be where you stay.
Leaders have to be cognizant of what they say. Customer-facing roles have to be careful that they never offend. CEOs have to be able to relate to everyone in the company, as well as shareholders and other watchful parties. (With a few exceptions,most CEOs learned a long time ago that they don’t need to create any new headaches for themselves by dropping the wrong word to the wrong person.)
You may not get the job. When up for a new job, you don’t know the values and principles of the person who is interviewing you or the culture of the company hiring, so you are better off finding new adjectives to describe the awesome jobs you have done. A recruiter or hiring manager puts their reputation on the line by bringing you forward to meet other people in the company. If they’re concerned that your language could be random and offensive, then they may pass on you for the other candidate that doesn’t carry this baggage.
You lose IQ points. Part of success is how smart we are. If the best we can do are four-letter words, no matter how many of them we can creatively string together, we just don’t look very smart.
In this day and age, we don’t need any personal characteristics that can hurt our careers or give a colleague or competitor an advantage. So unless your dream job is to be a sailor (no offense to those who serve our country) then don’t swear like one.
Rusty Rueff, director and career expert for jobs and career website Glassdoor.com has been a CEO, led HR in global companies and is co-author of Talent Force: A New Manifesto for the Human Side of Business.