Linguistic Hygiene: Research says swearing can boost team spirit

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Oct 22 21:38:00 UTC 2007

Research says swearing can boost team spirit
published: Monday | October 22, 2007

Gareth Manning, Gleaner Writer

Some employers may want to consider permitting the use of profanity in
the workplace from time to time. It seems using a few expletives in
your day-to-day communication at work could actually help build team
spirit and help release steam, a recent study suggests.  The study
conducted by Professors Yehuda Baruch and Stuart Jenkins of the
University of East Anglia in Norwich, while not encouraging workplaces
to deliberately adopt the use of profane language, says allowing
employees to use it from time to time might actually help enhance

"...In many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for
developing and maintaining solidarity, and as a mechanism to cope with
stress. Allowing an official 'no swearing' policy to be informally
ignored in some contexts may be a sensible outcome," the researchers
say. Dr. Leahcim Semaj, psychologist and chief executive officer of
the Job Bank, agrees with the findings of the researchers but
indicates that employers in Jamaica would need to exercise a little
more care when adopting such a principle.

"You are responsible for what goes out of the mouth, so even if you
never intended it 'that way', if people are misunderstanding it, you
are wrong!" Dr. Semaj explains.

Wrong place and time

"On the other hand, we can teach the rest of the staff to understand
that no harm was intended. He really intended just to express what he
was feeling at the time. But there is a gap between those two and I
put the onus on the person who uses that kind of language ... because
in the wrong place and time you can cause irreparable damage," he
adds. He says such a policy might work best with groups of people who
have been working together for a long period of time as they know one
another better.

Audrey Hinchcliffe, president of the Jamaica Employers' Federation,
also acknowledges that there is some benefit to using expletives, but
reminds the public that 'bad words', as they are more commonly known
in Jamaica, are illegal. "Unless something is done about the law, I
don't know that we at the workplace can take on something that breaks
the law of the land," she says. She cautions that while using such
terms provides a medium for expressing one's self, the work
environment should be governed by principles that should be beneficial
to all employees. "I don't know that is something I would subscribe
to. People have got to find other ways of relieving themselves at the
workplace," she says.

Even though in a social context, 'bad words' do in fact appear to
build community and spirit, more so among men, there is no reason to
advocate for it be used more generally as means of building
cohesiveness, says Donna Parchment, chairman of the Dispute Resolution
Foundation. "A substantial number of users of these words in our
society don't consider it acceptable across the board. So, I would be
reluctant to, given all the problems and issues and possibilities, I
don't see the broader use of expletives as a way of building community
in Jamaica," she says.

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