Fascinating research published in the January issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology has reached two conclusions that may surprise many: 1) sex talk in the workplace decreases morale, even where the sex talk is welcome; and 2) the decrease of morale applies particularly to male employees.
Two studies showed that for a number of employees, encountering sexually-related conduct in the workplace (such as raunchy jokes, sexual approaches, etc.) pleasurable or, at the least, not negative. One study of 238 people showed that 10 percent of women and 46 percent of men welcomed sexually-related conduct. In a follow-up study of over 1,000 employees, 40 percent said they had encountered workplace sexual behavior, and half of those considered it “pleasurable” or “benign.” (Laws forbidding sexual harassment law usually only apply to conduct that is unwelcome.)
However, in the end, it didn’t matter whether employees found the sexual behavior fun or offensive. The study found that the more the employees experienced the sexual behavior, the lower their workplace morale, regardless of whether they enjoyed it. In fact, morale was particularly negatively affected in cases of “locker room” humor between heterosexual males.
As the lead researcher from the University of Toronto has stated, when sexual conduct at workplace is enjoyable or flattering, “it may not be sexual harassment, but it is unprofessional and a detriment to the work environment.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.