There are plenty of boundaries we’re told not to cross in the workplace. Most of them center around respecting relationship boundaries, as well as respecting individuality. Obviously, discriminatory language and behavior shouldn’t be tolerated. But, should flirting be in the same category? Research says that office flirting may actually be beneficial to our stress levels.
A study conducted by Washington State University and published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes focused on positive sexual interaction in the workplace. What does that mean? Small-talk, banter, and very subtle flirting. If you’re wondering what subtle flirting means, the researchers luckily drew a clear demarcation line between sexual harassment, especially from persons of authority, and flirtatious behavior.
“Some flirting is happening, and it seems pretty benign,” said Sheppard, one of the researches. “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.”
The social-sexual behaviors in question comprised of such flirtatious behavior as jokes and small innuendos as well as glances and compliments on someone’s appearance. Most respondents of the study, who were asked for their feedback before and after the #MeToo movement, remained neutral when it came to sexual innuendos. However, they were somewhat positive toward flirtation at work overall.
“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,” said Sheppard.
Although the survey showed that flirtatious behavior was enjoyed between coworkers, it wasn’t welcome when it came from supervisors. This is not only feedback for managers looking to establish workplace policies, but also good feedback for people who wonder whether their latest compliment is out of line.