Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: Swearing has become commonplace. Is it all right to swear at work?

I wonder, these days. I expect you were one of the many watching the Live 8 concert and will have noticed there was liberal use of the "F-word" during the day.

Apparently the new broadcasting code issued by Ofcom has relaxed guidelines governing the use of swearing after the watershed.

Jamie Oliver was recently cleared of "gratuitous and unnecessary" swearing during his Channel 4 campaign to improve school dinners. The broadcasters said that censoring his swearing during the unscripted series would have "risked diluting the documentary account".

The key point, the broadcasters said, was that Oliver was not swearing in front of children. As the programme was aimed at an adult audience, they thought that swearing was fine.

This certainly does seem to reflect a changing attitude to the use of profanities.

However, I think a distinction has to be drawn between what one can describe as "conversational" swearing and situations in which swear words are being used to insult or abuse someone in a gratuitous fashion.

For me, it would be completely unacceptable for members of staff to swear at each other in an aggressive manner that was deliberately designed to be offensive. I also think people need to be sensitive to others' views on swearing.

I suspect it's almost de rigueur for younger staff, but others might not find it acceptable, and it's surely a matter of courtesy to see that their views are respected.

It should go without saying that staff should take care to respect the attitudes of members, service users and customers.

I recall being taken to task by one of Third Sector's readers for using the word "crap", which I hardly regard as a swear word at all.

Back to celebrity chefs: apparently Ofcom accepted that Gordon Ramsey had breached standards when he used the word "Jesus" during one outburst.

They rejected complaints over his repeated use of swear words, but said "strong swearing coupled directly with holy names is found highly offensive by believers".

A whole range of Acevo members are drawn from religious organisations or charities with religious origins. I am sure they would draw the line at swearing - blasphemy in particular.

Now, I am not suggesting you go in for a written code of practice on swearing - this would be taking things to an extreme.

Trying to ban swearing at work outright would be the 21st century equivalent of King Cnut on the shoreline. In this case, it's best to let common sense be the guide.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo)

Send your questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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