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Swearing at Work: Thoughts From the New Guy

I’m the new guy here at DSM. After nine years at my previous job, I knew I’d need to prepare myself for some adjustments moving into my new role at DSM.

I’d have to adjust from working in Manhattan to working in Mahwah (#firstworldproblems). I’d have to adjust from working in a nonprofit to working at an agency. But, the biggest adjustment for me? Swearing at work.

My new coworkers were shocked when I told them. Meredith, bewildered, asked, “Aren’t you from New Jersey?” Leon told me there are two places that are infamous for cursing at work: brokerage firms and marketing agencies.

In my previous office, swearing at work was practically unheard of. I might hear one expletive per week, followed by an immediate apology as if some demonic force had briefly taken over their tongue (kind of like this, with less crazy).

The vocabulary at DSM is a little more…colorful, and an average workday can feel like a 9-5 color run. Don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t come from a place of anger here.

It feels more like a band of soldiers who have been in the trenches together long enough to speak whatever’s on their mind. Swearing at work is just a part of the culture here, and in some ways, is a part of our brand as an agency.

My parents tell me I had a mouth like a truck driver before I had the training wheels taken off my bike. I was well acquainted with the taste of Dial hand soap at an early age.

My dad, a master reverse psychologist, actually made up a word and convinced me that it was one of the worst curse words of all. He made me swear to never say it out loud (a swear not to swear, I suppose). I had a field day with that one.

Maybe I said enough curse words in my youth to last me a lifetime, or maybe the scent of hand soap subconsciously strikes terror in my tongue, but these days I tend to opt for a more…genteel vocabulary.

So, is profanity in the workplace appropriate? Is cursing unprofessional? It depends who you ask. According to one study, 44 percent of millennials prefer working in environments where colleagues swear, while 45 percent of Generation X and Baby Boomer respondents said that swearing at work is too casual and feels unprofessional.

Let’s not paint with too broad of a brush – four-letter words are a second language for just about everyone at DSM (except maybe the interns), but there’s also no shortage of talent, passion and kindness.

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