Friday, October 19, 2007

There’s no $#%$ in “team”

I was fascinated to read this week that a couple of British researchers have found evidence that cussing at work should be not only allowed, but also encouraged – within moderation, after all, they are Brits – as a way to boost morale and build team spirit.

As my Marine buddies would say, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Are these guys just getting to the party?

I’m sure there are cuss-free workplaces – churches, synagogues, temples, robot welding rooms – but darn few outside of those. My first real newspaper job was at an uptight small-town daily whose publisher regularly and loudly threatened to fire anyone for chewing gum in the newsroom, much less swearing. It was not a happy place.

My next job on a city daily was in a boisterous newsroom where swearing was the norm. It is in my current gig, although maybe not at the level of that shabby old newsroom. Some of my colleagues have tried, unsuccessfully, to police themselves by having a “cuss jar” to which they had to donate 25 cents for every slip of the tongue. It’s bought them a lot of ice cream over the years, and continues to do so.

The downside is that it’s difficult to turn off the potty flow when in more refined company, or around your kids. When the wife of one of my colleagues asked the younger of their daughters where she had heard the bad word she had just uttered, both she and her older sister said “Daddy.” When Daddy came home that night, he was informed by his older daughter that he and Mommy were going to have a talk about his talk.

While much of the world cusses on an equal-opportunity basis – women and men blazing away in the office, in public places and so on – and plenty of CB wags swear a blue streak, many truckers seem to retain a sensitivity about cussing. This is especially true of guys, who might let fly in front of each other, but zip the lips in front of women and kids. It’s a kind of “tip your hat to the lady” gentility that – contrary to this decidedly vague research study – could go even further in building team spirit and morale. It’s based on respect, and without respecting others, you can’t expect it in return.