Light-Hearted Flirting With Coworkers Can Reduce Stress: Study
Mon, October 25, 2021

Light-Hearted Flirting With Coworkers Can Reduce Stress: Study

Casual flirting with coworkers is a positive experience that can help reduce stress, according to a new study from Washington State University / Photo by: langstrup via 123RF


Casual flirting with coworkers is a positive experience that can help reduce stress, according to a new study from Washington State University (WSU).

Positive Social Sexual Behavior

The authors described it as a positive experience of social-sexual behavior, among these are casual flirtation and sexual storytelling. This includes innuendos, jokes, and light-hearted flirtatious behavior comprised of compliments on one’s physical appearance and coy glances. The team studied a series of surveys involving different workers in Canada, the Philippines, and the United States. Hundreds of responses were also gathered from the different groups before and after the #MeToo movement, which is a social media movement against sexual assault and harassment.

WSU Assistant Professor Leah Sheppard said via human resources industry news provider HRD that when casual flirtation is enjoyed, it can provide benefits. For example, it makes the person feel good about themselves, protecting them from life’s stressors and relieving their tension. As people are working harder and longer, the American Institute of Stress has mentioned the main causes of stress in the workplace: 46% workload, 28% people issues, 20% juggling work or personal lives, and 6% lack of job security.

Sheppard went on to state that flirting behavior in the workplace is “pretty benign.” Also, even if the study participants did not like the behavior, it still did not reach the threshold of sexual assault or harassment. It also did not produce a higher stress level. In conceptualizing workplace positive social sexual behavior, the researchers said that the behaviors are not always driven by romantic behaviors and can even happen among people of diverse sexual orientations or the same gender.

Flirting Behavior From Coworkers Vs. From Supervisors

On the other hand, respondents admit that they do not appreciate if the flirting behavior comes from their supervisors. This only indicates that managers should find a balance in their workplace by not implementing overly restrictive rules on flirting and that they should also be careful if they will engage in it themselves. The moment a power imbalance occurs, there is a risk of entering the field that others may perceive as sexual assault or harassment.

Activating the Brain’s Pleasure Receptors

Prior to Sheppard and the team’s study, dating experts also pointed out that healthy flirting activates the pleasure receptors of the brain, which releases norepinephrine and dopamine. This helps a person feel good and have a better immune system. As there is stimulation in the nervous system, it encourages blood flow and consequently releases adrenaline that also improves the person’s ability to concentrate, stay alert, and be more sensitive to touch.

Flirting Takes a While to Pin Down

In a previous study by the University of Kansas, however, researchers said that humans are really bad when it comes to detecting flirting. Associate professor of communication studies Jeffrey Hall, who is also the author of the book The Five Flirting Styles, said, "Behavior that is flirtatious is hard to see.” Some of the reasons are that people will not do it in obvious ways for fear of embarrassment, because the behavior looks like being friendly, and because people are not accustomed to having their flirting behavior being validated.

Online dating site and app Zoosk has likewise conducted a survey, showing that many people consider flirting as fun even if they don’t intend to date the person. It is also a means to rekindle romance or start a relationship. About 41% of people all over the world say they flirt because it is “playful fun,” 20% say it is an ice breaker when they have already started dating, 11% say they do it to attract a potential partner, and 18% flirt to keep the romance alive in their existing relationship. Among those in an established relationship, 89% consider flirting with their significant other important.

On the other hand, the biggest turn-off when it comes to flirting are: invading personal space or coming on too strong (32%), saying corny pick-up lines (20%), saying inappropriate comments about the other person’s physical appearance (20%), and suggestive body language (7%).

In another study conducted by global networking and dating site Badoo, it analyzed 90 million online contacts in different countries. They found that Spain is the world’s flirtiest nation, followed by Poland, the Dominican Republic, and Italy and Argentina at a tie.

Observing Personal Boundaries

The study emphasized, though, that flirting is only beneficial if it comes in unobtrusive forms. Personal boundaries of employees should still be observed and it should not inconvenience them. The researchers said that they carried out their study in response to the actions implemented by several firms in fight against sexual harassment like some managers prohibit their workers to stare at each other for more than five seconds. This is the case with streaming service Netflix. It said via UK news The Independent that it is proud of the anti-harassment training they offer to their productions. Their rule also includes not asking for a colleague’s phone number unless they have permitted for its distribution, not flirting, and not giving lingering hugs. Netflix said in a statement that they wanted their productions to be a respectful and safe working environment and the management believes that the resources they offer empower the people on sets to speak up in cases of harassment.

Harassing conduct in the workplace include offensive slurs, name-calling, ridicule, offensive pictures, insults, physical threats or assaults, and slurs. Workplace harassment may also occur during a job interview, where employers are asked discriminatory questions about their sexual preferences, country of origin, ethnic background, age, marital status, religion, race, and gender. These are considered discriminatory questions as they are not relevant to the qualifications, skills, and abilities to perform the job when hired.

As work-related stress presents a global problem and impacts health, such as it causes sleep deprivation, flirting can help buffer the stress as long as it is done in appropriate limits. It can be done in the form of daily affirmation, flattery, and teasing, which is also a part of the camaraderie but should not be in the form of workplace harassment. Rules regarding workplace harassment should still be enforced.