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Foul mouth in the office

Q: I just joined a company after six months of unemployment. I had some reservations about joining this company but job opportunities aren’t exactly plentiful in my field. I took the job and started about a month ago. Here is the problem: it is commonplace, almost encouraged to swear and rant and rave all the time. My boss is the worst. It is incredibly offensive. He will yell profanities. I have counted and sometimes he swears more than 20 times per day. And not “under your breath” mumbling profanities. Instead, these are extremely loud profanities. It doesn’t seem to even faze him when employees run out of his office when he starts his tirade. No one seems even willing to report this to HR. HR is on a different floor and rarely visits our department.

A: Often the senior-most leader in the department, company or business unit sets the tone for culture. If this person works long hours, others feel compelled to work long hours. If this person is forthright and candid, others see that behavior and understand that is how business is conducted. If this person swears a lot, others think that this is acceptable behavior. Often times, employees will model this behavior (whether positive or negative) thinking that this behavior may help advance their careers.

It sounds like your manager sets the tone for your department. Your manager’s behavior could be interpreted as harassment, especially if this behavior occurs on a regular basis. Your company could be held liable for his behavior.

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It is unclear to me why employees would not contact your HR department. I understand that some employees may feel like they have to suffer through this behavior. They may not want to “rock the boat.” Instead, they would rather put their heads down and endure the yelling. Some might even be happy that they have a job. You are right — jobs in some industries are scarce now. The instability of this economy leads many employees to avoid confrontation and just try to ignore inappropriate behavior. I call this the “gopher syndrome.” Employees will retreat to their “holes” to avoid and hopefully survive.

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You could request that a member of your HR team periodically visit your department. Ask that an HR representative be more visible with “open eyes and open ears.” Hopefully, the member of the HR team will directly observe one of your manager’s tirades.

Confronting hostile behavior is difficult and can be uncomfortable. However, you and your colleagues should be able to work in a respectful environment. If this behavior continues, I would suggest trying to talk to a colleague about approaching HR together. You could also consider submitting your concerns in a confidential memo.

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