Opinion

Swearing at work, can it make businesses more successful?

5 min read

04 June 2019

There's been a sea change in attitudes towards the use of swearing in both public and private life - from politics to family entertainment. Things have certainly moved on since I was a lad when any cussing heard outside your trusted group of mates soon earnt you a clip around the ear.

These days profanity is commonplace – from Boris Johnson’s famous “f*** business” outburst to chef Gordon Ramsay, the man who launched a thousand red-faced TV tirades. He’s quoted as saying: “Swearing is industry language. For as long as we’re alive it’s not going to change.

Swearing, does it make bosses look tough, or out of control?

You’ve got to be boisterous to get results.” Ramsay certainly built a career on his liberal use of the f-word, among others, but as society becomes more accepting of such language, is there a place for it in business?

One survey found almost 90% of Britons swear an average of 14 times a day, although conversely the Radio Times reported that 42% of TV viewers say it is bad language that offends them most, ahead of discrimination, sex, and violence.

Most employers still believe swearing is unprofessional in the workplace and can signify a lack of control.

However, others consider its judicious use persuasive and a leadership tool. There are of course some high-profile examples of where swearing has been a benefit to business.

Why is swearing acceptable in business?

When Dollar Shave Club founder Michael Dubin launched his start-up in the US, he created an irreverent video to try and connect with his target audience. “Are our blades any good”, he asked. “No, our blades are f*****g great!”

This convinced former Myspace CEO Michael Jones to join the business as a partner and when the video released it quickly went viral – and the Dollar Shave Club was inundated with 12,000 orders in 48 hours.

More recently, here in the UK, a cheeky swear was used to good effect during the great KFC chicken shortage crisis of February 2018.

At the time this was, astonishingly, daily headline news, with hordes of disappointed customers queuing up to speak of their outrage as hundreds of the fast food outlets were forced to close their doors.

In the end, KFC tweeted out a scramble of its famous initials to say ‘FCK We’re Sorry’. This humorous apology was well received, deflecting from its woes and possibly helping save the brand.

Bad language: Engaging or alienating?

So, swearing may have a place in business – but its use must be carefully weighed against the target audience and careful consideration given as to whether it may alienate customers or tarnish an image.

Inside the business world, I imagine the use of industrial language has never really disappeared in certain quarters but swearing must never be used as a tool to bully or intimidate.

A workplace should be somewhere where everyone feels comfortable.

Now, I’ll admit to using a few choice words myself – often through my exasperation with the current political turmoil – and I’ve received many a complaint (from Brexiteers!) over the huge ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ sign that sits proudly atop our London headquarters.

Customer facing? Then make sure you present yourself correctly

However, I firmly believe public figures – including politicians – should set an example no matter how much they want to grab the headlines or ingratiate themselves with a certain faction of voters.

In business, I’ve built my company’s reputation on a workforce which is both friendly and courteous. Setting such standards is important to me.

That’s the reason why my staff wear smart uniforms and drive immaculately-turned out vans – to show customers that such high standards are also reflected in the quality of our work.

I’m sure some of you may think this is being rather hypocritical, but it works for me and is appreciated by our customers – reflected by the fact that 75% of all our custom is repeat business. And if you don’t like it, you can go take a running jump!