Survey Reveals Workplace Profanity Is on the Rise

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WorldWIT polled its 40,000 professional women and concluded that stress is the key factor in the rise of profanity. While the holidays often promote a relaxed workplace, career expert Liz Ryan offers tips on how to adapt in a ‘vulgar’ enviornment.

Using Zoomerang’s premier survey technology (, WorldWIT™, the world's largest online community for professional women spanning 25 countries, recently asked its 40,000 members, “Has workplace profanity increased over the last five years?” While just 29% percent answered ‘no’, nearly 80% of those surveyed have grown accustomed to vulgarities in the workplace or don’t mind profanities ’used sparingly’ and say that although such language is usually only used in times of stress, it still “diminishes one’s character,” as one survey respondent noted. In response to the survey results, WorldWIT CEO and workplace expert Liz Ryan offers advice for managing the sticky scenarios of using profanities at work.

WorldWIT’s comprehensive survey also concludes that while nearly 70% say there is no relation to age, the frequent use of profanity could be a gender issue and could also be related to the environment of an organization, physical setting, or stress factor. In fact, Zoomerang’s easy-to-use, Internet-based survey tool allows WorldWIT to design and send surveys and analyze the data offering both the media and respondents true results in real time.

One respondent said, “A profane expression communicates a low threshold for managing difficult circumstances. It raises issues about the effectiveness of that person's style of communication.” While another respondent said, “Well-placed profanity has its purpose, if used sparingly to get a person's attention or in a humorous situation.” While yet another responded, “It really all depends how they said it and in what context but I still think it's very unprofessional and classless.”

Liz Ryan has the following advice to offer:

1) Everyone has his or her own comfort level with strong language. The best way to make your own tolerance level known is to comment (gently) when you hear something that's just too harsh for your ears. You can say, "Yikes!" or "Eek!" or make some other exclamation, and then gently add, "Can I bother you to find a less colorful expression?" Ninety-five percent of people will get the hint.

2) It's important to distinguish between profanity that is used generally to let off steam, and profanity that is directed at a person. Its one thing to say, "This situation sucks," (a word which many people don't even view as profane anymore) and another thing to say, "Joe Smith sucks in his job." Even if you don't mind mild profanity in general, it's perfectly appropriate to say "You know that's not really a great way to talk about a colleague."

3) If you are overwhelmed by very strong language in your workplace, speak to your manager. People who are offended by profanity very often feel hesitant to speak up; because they fear that they won't be viewed as sufficiently hard-core and tough about their jobs. Companies are becoming more diverse, and part of diversity is embracing all sorts of communication styles and values. No one should have to work in an F-this, F-that environment if they're not comfortable.

4) If you use more profanity at work than you'd like to, try cultivating a milder expression in the place of your most-often-used cuss words. Here are a bunch of tried-and-true substitutes: Judas Priest! Oh, fudge! Oh, sugar! If you fear that you'll sound like Samantha from "Bewitched," don't worry; there are worse things. Better to be viewed as Tinkerbell than as a potty mouth.

5) Take a quick 'pulse' survey in your office to find out what level of profanity is comfortable with your co-workers. HR or your manager can construct a quick online survey using, and find out where people's comfort level lies. Some offices steer clear of even "hell" and "damn;" others stop at those two expressions. In some offices, the use of the long form of 'mofo' is as common as the use of 'this' and 'that.' Find out what makes your teammates comfortable and what makes them edgy - then you can adjust your office norms to that standard.

From a 20-year career as a Fortune 500 executive to co-founder of a venture-backed software startup to founder and CEO of the global professional woman's network WorldWIT, Liz has collected several volumes worth of experiences, wisdom, and razor-sharp observations that have enlightened and entertained audiences of CEOs, CIOs, HR leaders and women in business throughout the U.S.

Zoomerang’s easy-to-use, Internet-based survey tool allows WorldWIT to design and send surveys and analyze the data offering both the media and respondents true results in real time. For more information on this survey please contact Kristi Hughes at 215-816-2954 or email

About WorldWIT

Founded in Chicago in 1999, WorldWIT ( is the world’s largest online networking organization for professional women in business, formed for women to share advice and ideas with other women eager to “connect.” It reaches 40,000 women globally via moderated, local email discussion groups like ChicWIT (Chicago), HoustonWIT and BritWIT (Great Britain), and through local events and activities in 25 countries and 80 cities around the world. WorldWIT is also the proud winner of the 2004 Stevie™ Award for Best Woman’s Business Association.

The membership is free and is comprised of women who range from corporate CEOs, government officials, legal professionals, marketing and media experts to home-based consultants and entrepreneurs. Its founder, Liz Ryan, was the first female vice president at U.S. Robotics, and is a popular columnist, speaker and “at work issues” expert. She has been featured by such media as TIME, Fortune, The New York Times, CNN, CNBC and CN8. Liz is also a regular contributor to Business Week Online and the on-air workplace expert for Denver’s NBC affiliate, 9 News. WorldWIT is headquartered in Boulder, CO with a satellite office in Philadelphia, PA.

About Zoomerang

Zoomerang, the world's premier online survey software, was launched by MarketTools, Inc. in 1999 to provide a powerful, streamlined alternative for organizations needing to conduct accurate, comprehensive surveys with a minimum of cost and effort.

Zoomerang online survey tools are now in use in over 200 countries, and over 100 million surveys have been sent using Zoomerang.

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