Gender Differences in attitudes towards Sex Jokes in the Workplace

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A study published in the April 2009 edition of the Journal of Applied Psychology and co-authored by researchers from the
University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Management has concluded that sexual behaviour in the workplace affects negatively employee morale. Sex jokes, flirtation and discussions of of sexual topics tended to alienate employees rather than act as a social bonding exercise.

The Study

The study’s authors looked at the effect of sexual behavior in the workplace such as sexual jokes, innuendo, discussions of sexual matters or flirtation. They analysed gender differences in attitudes towards such behaviour in order to see whether there were any positive side-effects such as social bonding or enjoyment.

The Results

While 25% of those studied stated that they found sexual behaviour in the workplace 'fun', 50% were neutral and the remaining quarter expressed negative sentiments. Importantly, even employees who enjoyed the behaviour tended to withdraw from work, felt less valued and reported depressive symptoms more often than employees who experienced little to no sexual behavior at the office. The results were found among both women and men, working in manufacturing, social service and university jobs.


One of the study's authors, Prof. Berdahl, suggested the study’s findings should be treated as “sage advice” for employees and employers to avoid engaging in sexual behaviour while on the job.

“In our culture, sexuality has these connotations of domination, subordinance and vulnerability,” she said. “Often a dominating behaviour is a way of making someone squirmy. Why bring this into the workplace?”


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