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Putting Up with Profanity

What should you do when your coworkers’ language makes work uncomfortable?

Do your coworkers curse at you?

How about your boss?

Suffering profanity has become a regular part of the business day for one young woman who recently wrote to me. Let's call her Claire. For 11 years, Claire has been working at a small company (less than 10 employees in her office). Her boss and coworkers share crude jokes, openly swear, and even warned a recent new hire that she'd better "get used to the colorful language." Even just last week in the middle of a company meeting, Claire's 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 crudeness and has asked people to stop swearing so much, but it hasn't made a difference. The situation has become so unbearable for her that she has made plans to leave her job.

Hearing Claire's situation saddened me, but it didn't shock me. The stark reality is that a workplace environment can be uncomfortable—even unbearable—at times. Most large companies will have human resources departments and corporate policies meant to prevent hostile work environments, but those measures are no guarantee that you won't find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

So what do you do?

First, and most importantly, check your expectations. Your job is not your church, nor is it your home, and your coworkers are never going to conform perfectly to your convictions. That doesn't mean you should suffer disrespect or humiliation, but it does means that some amount of discomfort is to be expected. Understand that most of the time, other people at work are just being themselves—they aren't trying to bother or hurt you. You don't need to waste your time and energy on bitterness or anger toward 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.

Focus instead on what you can control: your attitude, your actions, and ultimately, your choice of employer. It sounds like Claire has done just about everything she can. Since it's a small company and her boss endorses the behavior, 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, 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 for 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 maintaining a positive outlook despite adversity communicates volumes about your faith.

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Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Diane Paddison

Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.

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