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Poll: Which common work behaviors are most objectionable?

by | Mar 7, 2018 | Sexual Harassment


A scientifically valid poll by NPR and Ipsos recently delved into Americans’ opinions about some common, potentially objectionable workplace behaviors. The pollsters found that the behaviors identified as most objectionable were still quite prevalent. It also found that men between 18 and 34 are much less likely to recognize the behaviors as improper.

It’s important to note that the behaviors described are quite mild. The pollsters didn’t ask about any behaviors that were criminal — or even about the sorts of serious breaches that would likely result in a lawsuit or firing. Rather, most of the behaviors would probably constitute sexual harassment only if they were part of a serious and pervasive hostile work environment. Nevertheless, there are some interesting trends.

Below is a list of the behaviors discussed. It is in order of most objectionable to least, according to the respondents, with the percentage who thought the behavior was inappropriate:

  • Spreading rumors about a coworker’s sex life (97 percent)
  • Discussing a coworker’s sexual preferences or history (93 percent)
  • Deliberately touching, leaning into or cornering a coworker (93 percent)
  • Telling sexual stories or jokes (91 percent)
  • Referring to a female colleague as “girl,” “babe,” “sweetie,” etc. (83 percent)
  • A supervisor flirting, believing it is mutual (82 percent)
  • A supervisor asking an employee on a date (79 percent)
  • Standing close or brushing up against a coworker (79 percent)
  • Male commenting on a female’s appearance (49 percent)
  • Female commenting on a male’s appearance (46 percent)
  • Asking questions about a coworker’s social life (45 percent)
  • A coworker asking an equal-rank coworker on a date (30 percent)

The respondents could also answer that “it depends” or that the behavior was appropriate.

Substantial percentages report observing the most objectionable behaviors

The poll also found that even the most objectionable of these behaviors were relatively pervasive. The respondents were asked if they had seen the behavior occur and if they had taken part. For example, 39 percent of all respondents said they had seen someone spread rumors about a coworker’s sex life, and 6 percent admitted spreading such rumors.

Young men less likely to recognize the most objectionable behaviors as inappropriate

Men between the ages of 18 and 34 were less likely to answer that the objectionable behaviors were always inappropriate. However, in many cases they answered “it depends” rather than saying the behaviors were actually appropriate.

For example, these men were more likely than other groups to answer “it depends” regarding supervisors flirting with employees, supervisors asking employees on dates, and telling sexual jokes and stories at work.

There is more detailed information in this analysis by NPR.

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