Several years ago, I attended a harassment seminar at work. It's purpose was the enlighten managers of the many, many ways one could harass employees. Sexual harassment gets the most press but there are a number of ways employees could be intimated or otherwise distracted (or "harassed" in legal terms) by management.
Turns out, having a manager who uses harsh or graphic language was one of the ways employees could feel uncomfortable in an office setting. Sure, we're all adults but nonetheless, if someone is not used to hearing cursing or off-color language, or does not use it at home or in personal life, it can be off-putting to hear it from the person who, to some degree, holds your professional life in his or her hands. Language like this can even cause an employee to feel less than comfortable talking to their supervisor about a work-related topic.
The March 2 issue of The New Yorker contains a profile of President Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel. He's an interesting, well-educated man who brings a lot of umm, personality to the office. Time will tell whether or not he is effective in his role in the White House.
One of the aspects of the story that startled me was the mention of a plaque displayed in his office. A gift from his brothers, Ezekiel and Ariel, it looks very official and bears this inscription: "Undersecretary for Go F--- Yourself."
Charming! Is this the message we want to send to everyone who visits Emmanuel's office on any kind of business? "Go F Yourself?" Nice.
If I worked for Rahm Emmanuel, the first thing I would tell him is that the plaque he's displaying is unprofessional and it offends me. The second thing I would say is thank you for not firing me for telling you that.
Look, it's not that I am an innocent who has not been around the block when it comes to language. But making that kind of statement, even in jest, on a plaque that is displayed in your office, when you have a very elevated position working very closely with the leader of the free world and everything that surrounds him, feels very different to me.
I get it. It's a joke from his brothers who know Emmanuel very well. So he should hang it or display it at home. In his family room. At least there, only his children and your wife will have to see it everyday. I don't think they can claim harassment at home.