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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.
By Leah Fessler
Published Last updated 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”

Spreading rumors about coworker’s sex life
97%
1%
2%
Discussing coworker’s sexual preferences, history
93%
5%
2%
Deliberate touching, leaning, or cornering
93%
4%
3%
Telling sexual stories or jokes
91%
5%
4%
Referring to female as girl, babe, sweetie, etc.
83%
11%
5%
Supervisor flirting, believing it’s mutual
82%
12%
5%
Supervisor asking employee on date
79%
16%
5%
Standing close, brushing up against coworker
79%
17%
4%
Male commenting on female’s appearance
49%
36%
15%
Female commenting on male’s appearance
46%
37%
17%
Asking questions about coworker’s social life
45%
36%
18%
Coworker asking equal-rank coworker on date
30%
40%
28%

Prevalence

 of “inappropriate” behaviors among poll participants

Male commenting on female’s appearance
72%
23%
Asking questions about coworker’s social life
70%
41%
Female commenting on male’s appearance
65%
26%
Referring to female as girl, babe, sweetie, etc.
58%
12%
Telling sexual stories or jokes
55%
15%
Coworker asking equal-rank coworker on date
53%
17%
Standing close, brushing up against coworker
48%
11%
Discussing coworker’s sexual preferences, history
45%
12%
Spreading rumors about coworker’s sex life
39%
6%
Supervisor flirting, believing it’s mutual
38%
7%
Deliberate touching, leaning, or cornering
35%
5%
Supervisor asking employee on date
28%
4%

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