May 20, 2009 / 8:21 PM / 10 years ago

What the French toast? Employers shun profanity

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - U.S. small business owners prefer workplace conversations about French toast to other words that start with the same letter.

Workplace profanity is offensive and unprofessional, say three-quarters of small business employers, and nearly half say it can border on harassment. But 40 percent let their own tongue slip from time to time, according to a survey by SurePayroll Inc.

Workplace profanity reflects popular culture, the bad manners of some public figures, and an increasingly casual workplace environment, said Michael Alter, president of SurePayroll.

A bad economy can fuel frustration and, in turn, colorful language.

“While pop culture is saying it’s more acceptable, small business owners say it’s not,” Alter said. “The perception is there is more swearing in a blue-collar business, but the interesting thing in our data is that it was viewed as unacceptable across both.”

Bosses often see their small business as an extension of family, and are mindful that they compete with large companies and need to put forward a professional image, Alter added.

SurePayroll recommends starting a swear jar, with $1 donated for every breach of decorum, money that can then be used for an office outing.

The online payroll service also suggests replacing common vulgarities with phrases like “What the French toast?” or “brother trucker.”

Any others?

“Oh shift,” said Alter.

Still, not everyone is opposed to profanity, and it may be more common than one suspects.

One in 10 of the 225 employers surveyed thought profanity can boost office morale, and a similar number said they actually swear more often at the office than outside it.

And while about 40 percent of employers said some of their workers swore at work, another 5.75 percent said all of their employees do.

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