Goldman Sachs Bans Cursing in E-Mail

Last Updated Aug 6, 2010 10:54 PM EDT

Goldman Sachs workers can't say bleep in e-mails anymore. The firm notified its employees that it is banning profanity from electronic messages, and will use screening software to make sure everyone complies, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

That salt-free diet seems weird: traders without curses are sort of like sailors without, well, curses. But no-profanity policies have been sweeping Wall Street since mobile cameras first came onto the stock exchange floor in 2005. Citi and J. P. Morgan Chase already have similar policies, and in Goldman's case, the no-swearing directive is particularly understandable. The firm just spent $550 million to settle a securities fraud case with the SEC, built in part on one of its traders calling a deal that the firm was peddling "s*&%#y." That's one expensive swear jar!

It's probably safe to say that if macho Wall Street traders aren't allowed to curse at work, you probably shouldn't, either. And that includes using asterisks and other characters to spell out obviously intended words, like I just did in that last paragraph. Here are some other ways to navigate those tricky waters:
  • Take your cue from your boss. If nobody else at work is cursing, then don't innovate. And keep a keen ear so that you can mirror the level of discourse at your company.
  • Realize what's considered acceptable is subject to change. Some gateway words like "ass" have made it into popular culture and on television. There's even a new show starring William Shatner, that is based on a popular and profane Twitter feed, called "Bleep My Dad Says." (The writer of that Twitter feed wrote a piece for CBS MoneyWatch recently on tips for parents on living with their boomerang kids.) But that doesn't mean that every word that's OK on TV or in the street is OK in a professional setting.
  • Slurs are never okay. Seriously, never.
  • Venting doesn't absolve you. If you have qualms about the ethics of what your company is doing (like that Goldman employee), don't gripe about it to a fellow worker in an e-mail or in the company kitchen. You can't distance yourself from a problem by privately saying you know it's a piece of curseword. Take it home, think about it, and if it's big and bad, become a whistle blower, not a potty mouth.
Photo by Mike Licht on Flickr.
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