They Need a Policy For This?

OK… let’s get real. How many of you have ever been rewarded, encouraged, or even allowed to use fowl language in your business communications?

I’m hoping most of you answered in the negative to that one! I’m also hoping you would expect the employer to have some sort of discussion with someone who chose to engage in this type of behavior!

Not the case, if you work in the ivory-lined Wall Street towers of Goldman Sachs! If you work there, it appears this sort of communication has been acceptable for quite some time … at least until recently. Why? Perhaps because Goldman Sachs was embarrassed by a fowl email written by one of their own, that was repeatedly referenced during a recent Congressional hearing.

Their solution? The company has decided to inform its
employees (verbally, of course) that the company will no longer allow them to get away with profanity in electronic messages. Hey! What about other forms of communication? And, since there’s no written directive specifying which curses are officially off-limits, the company will depend on an electronic screening tool to detect common swear words and acronyms. So what happens if the widget finds naughty words? And, notwithstanding the company’s embarrassment, Goldman Sachs employees still wonder if they’ll be able to get away with using shorthand expletives like “WTF”.

Despite the employees’ amazement, I’ll bet the vast majority of the rest of this country just wonders why these people still have jobs (not just because of their lack-luster, unprofessional communication methods, but for so many other reasons as well)!

A Message to Goldman Sachs Employees: Cherish your jobs and be glad you’ve been asked only to trade your use of obscenities for a continuing (and nicely padded) pay check.

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Peter Sperry

As I recall basic training at Ft. Benning (1979), the drill sergeant’s description of some of my ancestry might not have been acceptable even at Goldman Sachs. Also the marching and running songs we were taught often included graphic descriptions of activities involving mutiple genders, species and mechanical equipment.

Obscenities, used by both genders, have always been a part of any high adrenaline organization or activity. As participents become increasingly immune to the shock value of certain terms, the level of usage tends to either degenerate or simple fade into the background noise.

Politically correct management has tried to drive this discourse out of the workplace over the last 30 years and largely succeeded in merely pushing it under the rug. Everyone likes to pretend that “they” do not use those words. But even the Vice President has been known to describe an accomplishment as a “big F—ing deal”. In general, people who are easily offended by profanity should avoid interaction with people in high adrenaline occupations like the military, financial services, politics, etc. etc.

Doris Tirone

I must address the comment about “high adrenaline occupations like the military.” I spent 22 years in the military, heard and used language that would turn a sailor’s face pink. That wasn’t the point here. The point is that a professional business environment (and I stress the word “professional”) doesn’t require profanity to get the job done, nor does the level of adrenaline negate or excuse one’s lack of ability to communicate with professionalism. I’m no prude, nor am I one who is offended by “blue language”. My military training taught me that “time” and “place” determine appropriateness; writing down, sending out (and thus, documenting) profane language in email is simply inappropriate (not to mention, dangerous and potentially costly) in a professional business environment. That point-of-view is clearly proven by the reaction from Goldman Sachs because they WERE EMBARRASSED by what fell into the hands of and read by members of Congress.

Doris Tirone

Good point, Gary! And in the business world, one must be ever conscious to keep this confusion at bay so it doesn’t reflect poorly on the organization!

Peter Sperry

Yes, like Captain Louis Renault, we are all “shocked, shocked to learn there is gambling going on here.” The language itself is a tempest in a teapot

What is much more interesting is observing how society develops unwritten rules regarding a new form of communication. One generation views texts and emails as an extension of letter writing and applies the etiquete expected from more formal communication (the written use of profanity, even in letters between friends has rarely been acceptable in polite society). A younger generation views texts and emails as an extension of the spoken word and applies the much more informal etiquete one might find in a bar down the street from their office. It is not just a matter of how things are said (use or non use of profanity) but what is said. Buddies knocking back a beer will often say things about customers, co-workers, competitors etc that could be highly embarressing regardless of the language used. Few if any of them would include these comments in their written work. People who view electronic communication as an extension of their oral communication may tend to include comments that are less than discrete (again, regardless of the use of profanity) than those who view it as an extension of their written communication.

And in the end, isn’t their total contempt of thier customers, coworkers, government regulators and the public at large much more offensive than the language they used to express that contempt?