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Professional Development Opinion

“Watch Your Mouth!” Your Employer Is Listening

By Emily Douglas-McNab — August 15, 2014 3 min read
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“Public profanity among top executives is sensitive to economic conditions,” explains Bloomberg News reporter Jeff Green in a recent article, F-Bombs Tolerated in Recession, Cause CEOs Trouble Later. A Bloomberg review of thousands of CEO calls with investors and analysts from 2004 to June 2014 found that swearing among top executives “spiked in the aftermath of the recession in 2009 and has been decreasing as the recovery gathers steam over the last couple years.” The four most common swear words--A.H., G.D., the scandalous S-word, and the infamous F-bomb--were used by executives on calls more than 250 times over the past decade.

According to a CareerBuilder Survey conducted by Harris Interactive in 2012 of 2,298 U.S. hiring managers and 3,892 full-time workers, swearing in the workplace doesn’t appear to be confined to the man or woman in the corner office.


  • Overall, 51 percent of respondents said that they cuss at work, including 7 percent who swear in front of customers and clients.
  • Forty-seven percent of women admitted to cursing compared to 54 percent of men.
  • The age group with the dirtiest mouth? Fifty-eight percent of employees age 35 to 44 responded that they swear at work, compared to 42 percent of 18 to 24 year olds, 51 percent of 25 to 31 year olds and 45 to 54 year olds, and 44 percent of employees 55 and over.
  • Eighty-one percent of employers shared that cussing at work brings an employee’s professionalism into question and 54 percent responded that they felt that “swearing at work makes an employee appear less intelligent.”
  • However, while the majority of employers said that they “think less” of employees who swear too often at work, 25 percent admitted to swearing AT employees. (Yikes!)

I’ll buy the first round of soap for everyone’s mouth...

How can all this swearing influence your kids and the students in your district?

“Today, children are already mimicking adults in their choice of curse words starting around 8 years old,” says Timothy Jay, professor of psychology at Massachusetts College of Liberal, who studies our use of taboo words and serves as a psycholinguistics consultant in legal cases and for school districts. He published research this year on 1,187 curse words overheard from children ages 1 to 12. It shows that the S-word becomes common in child swearing as early as 5 or 6 years old, while the F-bomb pops up later and becomes the top swear word used by children ages 11 to 12. Those two words are also the most popular among adults who swear, according to separate research of 3,190 words cataloged by Jay’s researchers.

“By the time children enter school, they have a working vocabulary of 30-40 offensive words,” Jay explains.

What can K-12 talent managers and other education leaders do to mitigate poor language in their organizations?

Consider the following questions:


  • How have employee behavior expectations been communicated? How do you handle such issues?
  • What levels of stress currently exist in your organization or in your industry? Are there ways you can work to alleviate those issues? Do people have a way to “get away” or blow off steam?
  • What type of behaviors do you exhibit? Are you modeling what you want to see in your employees or in the kids in your district?
  • What types of messages are top-level leaders spreading when it comes to language? Are these actions consistent with your behavior and the “rules” or communicated expectations in your organization?

For more infromation on talent, performance, and process management in education, follow the conversation on Twitter using #K12Talent or by following @EmilyDouglasHC.

‘Bar of soap’ image above from FreeDigitalPhotos.net user Africa.

The opinions expressed in K-12 Talent Manager are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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