Christian Bale, who recently starred as Batman in the “The Dark Knight,” has become a Web sensation after being caught on tape cursing and yelling at work.
On the set of his most recent project, “Terminator Salvation,” he went off on a tirade against the movie’s director of photography, Shane Hurlbut, because he inadvertently walked onto the set during a scene.
Here’s a sampling of Bale’s emotional explosion: “I want you off the f---ing set, you pr----. What the f--- are you doing? Am I going to walk around and rip your f---ing lights down in the middle of a scene? Then why the f--- are you walking right through? What the f--- is it with you?”
Bale has been both derided and defended for his outburst in blogs and on Web sites, but his behavior begs the question of whether such outbursts are ever appropriate at work or can possibly help a career.
“It’s a mixed deal,” says Ronald Humphrey, associate professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University. “We have to look at the organizational culture in deciding whether it helps you or not.”
Clearly, the entertainment industry doesn’t shy away from tearing down individuals in the workplace.
One of the most popular shows on television is “Hell’s Kitchen,” whose star, Chef Gordon Ramsay, spends the whole hour shouting bleeped-out expletives at young aspiring cooks.
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In certain high-pressure professions — including the restaurant industry, construction, the military and even Wall Street — colleagues swearing at each other may be more acceptable. (Full disclosure: I’ve had a few editors in my career who cursed and swore on occasion.)
“We all know that it’s bad to curse, it’s not nice, etc., but there are some positive elements,” says Yehuda Baruch, a professor at London’s Norwich Business School at the University of East Anglia and visiting professor at George Mason University.
Buruch has studied swearing at work and found that the practice can sometimes be a way for colleagues to bond and as a way to release stress.
“I remember one bank employee telling me she had customers on the phone that were very annoying, but she had to be calm and supportive,” he says. But as soon as she put the receiver down, she started swearing.
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In today’s politically correct crazed workplace, you would think a potty mouth would derail a career. Not always.
Brenda Christensen, with public relations firm Servoy USA, says she had an employee who often aimed the f-word at other workers.
“I was always nervous about her being a loose cannon,” says Christensen, who reprimanded the worker but did not fire her. In fact, the woman went on to land a big job at a major television network after leaving Servoy.
When Kevin Land worked for an engineering and architectural firm, cursing was commonplace.
“When you're an engineer, you have to work with so many other people and rely on that other person doing their job quickly and efficiently,” says Land, who is now a producer and videographer. “You also need to be precise in what you're doing, and if you have everything set up the way you like it then all of a sudden the architect decides to remove the wall that you just put all your panels on, you might just want to scream out a few profanities here and there.”
But in many cases, even in high-pressure jobs, cursing can get you canned.
A 911 operator in Nashville, Tenn., was fired last year after he cursed.
The employee had just hung up with a woman who said her ex-boyfriend was threatening her life. Even though the woman had hung up, the operator was still being recorded and was taped saying: "I really don't give a s--- what happens to you."
Anne Brown, a career coach, remembers working as a director for a Chicago nonprofit where she had a boss who cursed and yelled daily.
“She was a terror. You could hear her ranting at staff even several doors down,” says Brown, the author of “Grad to Great.” “One time she actually slammed the door to her office and wouldn’t let me leave until she had screamed several choice words at me and actually jabbed me in the chest with her finger.”
The woman was eventually fired, she says, but that wasn’t until practically the entire staff handed in their resignations.
Karen Leland, author of “Watercooler Wisdom: How Smart People Prosper In The Face of Conflict, Pressure and Change,” believes people will think twice about working with someone like Bale. “They’ll say, ‘That’s not the kind of prima donna I want on my staff.’”
Workers need to vent, but publicly humiliating someone is “unacceptable,” she says.
Regret over angry outbursts
But again, it all depends on circumstances.
One news outlet reported that Bale became a hero to the cast and crew of his latest movie after his tirade against Hurlbut, who apparently was not well-liked on the set.
While there may be no clear-cut answer to the question of whether cursing and yelling at work is a career killer, most workplace psychology experts think it’s a bad idea, especially when it’s aimed at an individual.
When a surge of emotion on the job involves “aggression or the denigration” of another person, it’s unacceptable, says Anna Maravelas, a psychologist and author of “How to Reduce Workplace Conflict and Stress.”
“You do dumb things when angry,” she says.
Displaying anger at work can also impact one's overall health because anger is highly correlated with heart disease, she says. Some risk becoming habitual aggressors, and they often feel remorse.
Indeed, Don Hudspeth of Austin, Texas, laments the times he had emotional outbursts at work.
“I always regretted it afterwards,” says Hudspeth, who spent six years as a manager for restaurant supply and equipment dealers.
On one occasion, he remembers cursing at a worker for sitting down on the job at the warehouse.
When the employee tried to explain he was just taking a break, Hudspeth recalls telling him: “That’s f---ing not the point. There are things out here that need to be done.”
He believes his rants had to do in part with the high-pressure industry he was in but also his own anger-management issues. Recently, he quit his restaurant job and is now looking for something less anger-inducing.
Bale may be heading for rehabilitation as well. On Friday, he acknowledged on Los Angeles radio show KROQ that he had a “potty mouth” and called himself a “punk” for his fit of cursing.
“I have no confusion whatsoever. I was out of order beyond belief,” he said. “I regret that.”