Describing light-hearted flirtation and banter among peers as positively experienced social-sexual behavior in the workplace, researchers say it could help them avoid other stressors in their life.
What's your take on casual flirting with your colleagues at workplaces? Does it benefit the organization in any way? According to new research from Washington State University—it apparently does. Published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, the study suggests that casual flirting like compliments and jokes may help reduce one's stress levels. Describing light-hearted flirtation and banter among peers as positively experienced social-sexual behavior in the workplace, researchers say it could help them avoid other stressors in their life. However, clear distinctions were drawn between this and other forms of unwelcome and persistent interaction and acts of sexual harassment, often performed by authoritative figures.
While these undesirable actions the victim of harassment stress, Washington State University Assistant Professor Leah Sheppard and her colleagues found that being on the receiving end of flirtation could relieve it. The study also questioned if the recent zero-tolerance policies toward workplace sexual behavior are missing the mark. "Some flirting is happening, and it seems pretty benign," explained Sheppard, who is the first author of the paper. "Even when our study participants disliked the behavior, it still didn’t reach the threshold of sexual harassment. It didn’t produce higher levels of stress, so it is a very different conceptual space."
In this extensive study, Sheppard and researchers from the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands analyzed non‑harassing social sexual behavior, an area of study which doesn't have as much information. This also includes what experts call sexual storytelling, for example, jokes and innuendoes, and flirtatious behavior, which involves compliments on one's physical appearance, and coy glances. The researchers arrived at the conclusion after examining a series of surveys with different sets of workers in the US, Canada, and the Philippines.
There were hundreds of participants involved in the survey and their responses were gathered from different groups of participants, both before and after the advent of the #MeToo movement, that disclosed the names of prominent figures in many fields and industries who were guilty of sexual harassment. After studying these surveys closely researchers found that most employees remained sort of neutral about sexual storytelling, however, they felt more positive about flirtation. "What we found is that when flirtation is enjoyed, it can offer some benefits: it makes people feel good about themselves, which can then protect them from stressors in their lives," revealed Sheppard.
Furthermore, the survey revealed that employees enjoyed flirtation when it came from their coworkers, however, it was less appreciated when supervisors did it. So, if you're someone of authority be careful not to send your colleges the wrong message. Sheppard and her team argued that that managers need to find a balance in the policies laid down by them. They explained how such excessively strict policies would not only stop sexual harassment but would also inadvertently give off the vibe that every form of social-sexual behavior, even the ones that are potentially beneficial would be monitored and punishable, according to the WSU.
"Zero-tolerance rules can add awkwardness into what are pretty naturally occurring behaviors within established friendships," revealed Sheppard. "At the same time, we’re not encouraging managers to facilitate this behavior. This is just something that probably organically happens. Managers also should be careful in engaging in flirtation themselves, especially with anyone at a lower level. As soon as there’s a power imbalance, you risk entering the domain of what might be perceived as sexual harassment," she said.