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Americans think the most inappropriate office behavior is gossip, not groping

Reuters/Pascal Lauener
Stop talking about your colleagues' sex lives.
  • Leah Fessler
By Leah Fessler

Reporter, Quartz at Work

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Sexual harassment has transfixed American workplaces in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and the office behavior Americans are most likely to find inappropriate, even more so than physical contact, is gossiping about a colleague’s sex life.

NPR and Ipsos polled 1,130 American adults in January, asking them to rate potentially objectionable behaviors on a scale ranging from “always inappropriate” to “always appropriate.” Spreading rumors about colleagues’ sex lives surpassed deliberate touching and sexual jokes as the most recognized offense. Nearly 100% of respondents agreed such gossip is inappropriate—yet 39% say they’ve seen it happen at work.

Behaviors ranked by percentage of poll participants who say they are “inappropriate”

BehaviorInappropriateIt dependsAppropriate
Spreading rumors about coworker’s sex life97%1%2%
Discussing coworker’s sexual preferences, history93%5%2%
Deliberate touching, leaning, or cornering93%4%3%
Telling sexual stories or jokes91%5%4%
Referring to female as girl, babe, sweetie, etc.83%11%5%
Supervisor flirting, believing it’s mutual82%12%5%
Supervisor asking employee on date79%16%5%
Standing close, brushing up against coworker79%17%4%
Male commenting on female’s appearance49%36%15%
Female commenting on male’s appearance46%37%17%
Asking questions about coworker’s social life45%36%18%
Coworker asking equal-rank coworker on date30%40%28%

Prevalence of “inappropriate” behaviors among poll participants

BehaviorHave seen it happenHave done it
Male commenting on female’s appearance72%23%
Asking questions about coworker’s social life70%41%
Female commenting on male’s appearance65%26%
Referring to female as girl, babe, sweetie, etc.58%12%
Telling sexual stories or jokes55%15%
Coworker asking equal-rank coworker on date53%17%
Standing close, brushing up against coworker48%11%
Discussing coworker’s sexual preferences, history45%12%
Spreading rumors about coworker’s sex life39%6%
Supervisor flirting, believing it’s mutual38%7%
Deliberate touching, leaning, or cornering35%5%
Supervisor asking employee on date28%4%

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