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Coworker reactions to observing sexual behavior at work

Amy Nicole Salvaggio (University of New Haven, New Haven, Connecticut, USA)
Jennifer Hopper (Hogan Assessment Systems, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA)
Kathryn M. Packell (University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 27 September 2011




The goal of the present research is to investigate the association between observing consensual sexual behavior at work (e.g. flirting, joking) and job outcomes – specifically, job satisfaction and turnover intentions.


Questionnaires were administered about observed consensual sexual behavior and job attitudes in two separate studies of working adults. Participants in Study 1 were 113 workers from 33 workplaces in the Midwestern USA; participants in Study 2 were 242 adults working in a variety of industries.


In support of the hypotheses, results from Study 1 indicated that employees who observed more sexual behavior at work reported lower job satisfaction. Study 2 replicated this result, but only for female employees. Observed sexual behavior at work was positively related to turnover intentions for both genders.

Research limitations/implications

In both studies, the research design was cross‐sectional, which prohibits causal inferences about the data. Second, it was not possible to assess whether the observed sexual behavior occurred between friendly peers, married coworkers, or coworkers married to other people – thus it is unclear how this factor is related to employee reactions.

Practical implications

Human resource managers should consider formulating policies regarding consensual sexual behavior at work to guide managers in handling potentially difficult situations, such as romantic relationships between peers.


This research is the first to explicitly link consensual sexual behavior at work with two specific job attitudes: job satisfaction and turnover intentions.



Nicole Salvaggio, A., Hopper, J. and Packell, K.M. (2011), "Coworker reactions to observing sexual behavior at work", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 26 No. 7, pp. 604-622.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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