Whether it’s a quick chat by the printer or a little banter over lunch, turns out having a flirt with your colleague can be beneficial, new findings suggest.
Research published Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes investigated positively experienced social sexual behaviour in the workplace, such as flanter (flirty banter) among colleagues.
However, they make the distinction clear between light-hearted chat and persistent, unwelcome acts of sexual harassment.
“Some flirting is happening, and it seems pretty benign,” said study author Sheppard.
“Even when our study participants disliked the behaviour, 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.”
Researchers from U.S., Canada and the Netherlands analysed data collected from surveys that quizzed workers in the U.S., Canada and the Philippines. With hundreds of volunteers, responses came from a variety of demographics, both before and after the #MeToo movement.
While answers suggested that most employees were quite neutral when it came to sexual storytelling ( such as jokes and innuendoes), many reacted more positively to 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,” Sheppard continued.
In one questionnaire, workers were asked about their experience with not only flirtation but also whether they felt that their superiors were treating them unfairly at work. They then quizzed the worker’s partners and colleagues for an outside opinion on their stress levels. Turns out having a cheeky flirt helps deal with the stress and insomnia associated with workplace injustice.
The team of scientists argue that strict policies in place that are mean’t to prevent cases of sexual harassment are also putting off people from potentially beneficial forms of social sexual behaviour.
However, findings also revealed that flirtation was positive when it was strictly coworkers, rather than supervisors. Sheppard recommends workplaces find the right balance where social sexual behaviour is allowed but still doesn’t promote or lead to sexual harassment.
“Zero-tolerance rules can add awkwardness into what are pretty naturally occurring behaviours within established friendships,” Sheppard added.
“At the same time, we’re not encouraging managers to facilitate this behaviour. 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.”