Ask Diane: Ugly Words at Work

Does your boss curse at you?

How about your coworkers?

For one young woman who wrote to me this week, suffering profanity has become a regular part of the business day.  For the purposes of this post, we’ll call her Claire.  She’s been working at a small company (less than 10 employees in her office) for 11 years. Her boss and coworkers share crude jokes and swear openly, even warning a recent new hire that she’d better “get used to our colorful language.” Last week in the middle of a company meeting her boss told a young attractive woman to send a picture of herself to her (male) client to make the client more responsive.  Claire has made it clear that she is uncomfortable with all the profanity and has asked people to stop swearing so much, but it hasn’t made a difference. The situation has become so untenable for her that she has made plans to leave.  She wrote to ask how I would handle profanity or crudeness in the work place.

Hearing about Claire’s situation saddened me, but it didn’t shock me. The stark reality is that as a Christian, a woman, or just a person with common sense, work places will be uncomfortable—even unbearable—at times. It’s true that most larger companies will have human resources departments and corporate policies meant to prevent hostile work environments, but even these are no guarantee that you won’t find yourself in a bad situation.

So what do you do?

First, and this is important, check your expectations. Quite frankly, your job is not your church and it’s not your home, and your coworkers are never going to conform perfectly to your sensibilities. That’s not to say you should suffer disrespect or humiliation, just that some amount of discomfort is to be expected. Understand that most of the time, other people at work aren’t trying to bother or hurt you, they’re just being themselves. Don’t waste your precious time or energy on bitterness or anger towards others who fail to live up to your standards of conduct.

Focus instead on what you can control: your attitude, your actions, and ultimately, your choice of employer.

As far as actions go, it sounds to me like Claire has done just about everything she can.  It’s a small company and her boss endorses the behavior, so her options are limited. She doesn’t participate in inappropriate behavior, and she’s made it clear that it makes her uncomfortable. Whether her boss and coworkers take that to heart is beyond Claire’s control (as she’s no doubt realized). Claire toughed it out for a long time, but she’s decided that staying is no longer tenable, and so she’s made plans to leave. It can be hard to walk away from a job, especially in the current economy, but it may be the right choice for you. Know that whether you stay or go, God is with you every step of the way.

Above all, remember that in your workplace, you are an ambassador of Christ. Whether they show it or not, your coworkers are paying attention to your attitude, your work ethic, and especially to the way you treat others. Continuing to work hard and maintain a positive outlook despite adversity communicates volumes about your faith.

Well those are my tips, what about you, have you had to deal with profanity or other inappropriate behavior at work? What would you do in Claire’s position?