Home' Border Enterprise : Autumn-Winter 2011 Contents enterprise
Vol 4. Autumn/Winter
criticism and nitpicking. Then there's the
uplifting effect of the manager who's positive
and cheerful, energising employees with praise
and encouragement. The former is most likely
to have a team endemic with absenteeism,
burnout, and resignations.
"Studies in the UK show that swearing actually
has a positive effect."
Depending on the context, words like "sissy"
and "princess" may not be offensive to the
average worker. Even a boss characterised
by negativity might have little impact on
an employee who's able to block out the
pessimism. But what about swearing? Are there
some instances where it's OK to swear at work?
Sometimes it's unavoidable, even acceptable.
Take, for example, the small-business sector.
In many professions, especially blue-collar
industries, it's not unusual for rough-around-
the-edges blokes to verbally express a host of
vulgarities. All the time. It's often a way of fitting
in and no one really cares.
Change the environment to the corporate
setting of an office and all of a sudden people
are on their best behaviour. Maybe it's because
they're indoors and they happen to be wearing
a suit. Regardless, corporate employees feel
the urge to be "professional". And yet, still,
think. This is why I suggest Human Resource
departments are renamed Human Potential. All
you need to feel is your own emotional response
to those two phrases to notice the difference."
Another way that words infiltrate the
workplace is via phrases that are increasingly
viewed as offensive. For instance, many
homosexuals hate hearing the term "that's so
gay" when referring to stuff that's somewhat
camp, and many women dislike hearing "you're
such a girl" when the implication is of inferiority.
And, recently, I asked the managers of a small
travel company what they'd do if they overheard
an employee telling a racist joke. The consensus
answer? "Laugh!" It was clear this was the kind
of thing they could get away with in their team.
They even commented on the bonding effect
that occurs when they tell jokes that would be
inappropriate in a different organisation.
The words and phrases mentioned in this
article are mostly used by employees and
managers innocently, usually without considering
the potential for offence. And yet, people get
offended. They make claims of discrimination
and accusations of harassment. They sulk and
pout and quit. They get fred up and knocked
down. But maybe it's because they're sissies
GOOGLE recently released a survey
of a series of management rules,
one of which is 'Don't be a sissy'.
Jetstar was also humiliated in a
Senate inquiry in March when it
was revealed a boss emailed a bunch of tired pilots
to say 'Toughen up princesses'. Words matter, but
are these words a big deal?
In Google's case, they conducted a
massive analysis of their existing managers by
scrutinising performance appraisals, reviewing
staff feedback from surveys, and investigating
the reasons people were nominated for awards.
The result was the creation of eight leadership
principles. "Don't be a sissy" is one of the
eight and its message is to "be productive and
In Jetstar's case, they're able to thank Senator
Nick Xenophon for exposing one of their internal
emails at a recent Senate inquiry. The email
was a response to complaints by pilots that
they were exhausted. "You aren't fatigued,
you are tired and can't be bothered going to
work," wrote the boss, before advising them to
"Toughen up princesses".
In so many ways, words have a powerful
impact. There's the depressive effect of a
manager who always uses negative language,
draining employees of enthusiasm with constant
they swear occasionally, and they either own
the expression if they're bold enough, or they
apologise shamefully for the slip-up.
Studies in Britain show that swearing
actually has a positive effect. Keele University
proved that swearing helps to relieve pain, and
researchers at the University of East Anglia
demonstrated that swearing makes workplaces
more tolerable. They even suggested that
banning swear words at work could have a
negative effect on the business. It's deemed to
be an easy way for employees to release their
tension. If that tension is bottled up, they get
On the other extreme are the subtle words,
the words that don't appear to cause any harm,
but are steeped in meaning and significance
that, according to some experts, have an
adverse effect. One such term is "human
Oonagh Moodling, a writer and speaker on
the desensitisation of the workplace, tells me:
"The most seemingly innocuous words can
cause subconscious limitation or damage.
The term "human resources" is a limiting term
because it commodifies people as things to be
used instead of genuine assets to be nurtured.
Language has such a deep influence on people
because it patterns and dictates how we
The 'sticks and stones'
mantra of "words will
never hurt me" has
been put to the test in
the workplace, writes
@#%&@! you guys, I'm going home.
Studies in the UK
show that swearing
actually has a
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