Why Flirting At Work May Actually Be Good For You, According To Science

A new study suggests that a little cheeky flirt in the office can be good for keeping stress levels down – so long as it’s mutual and between peers.

It’s never been more important to keep the business separated from the personal, unless you’re looking to score yourself a one-way ticket to HR.

But a new study from scientists in the US has suggested that flirting with colleagues can actually operate as a stress-buster that boosts levels of self-esteem.

Listen carefully folks, this is NOT a green light to ogle your co-workers under the guise of stroking their ego. They’re talking about natural, consensual behaviours within established friendships.

“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 the study’s lead author, Leah Sheppard, an assistant professor of management from Washington State University.

But, she added, “we’re not encouraging managers to facilitate this behaviour.”

The study explicitly excluded harassment (which of course increases stress levels) but studied what is deemed “social sexual behaviour” (aka “SSB”), which takes “non-harassing forms”.

The researchers split SSB down into “sexual storytelling” (including sexually-related stories, jokes, gossip and confiding) and flirtation (including provocative looks, compliments and making the other party feel attractive or desirable).

The study of 1,354 workers in the USA, Canada and the Philippines found that people generally felt neutral about sexual storytelling but positive about flirtation.

Although importantly, any positive experience didn’t extend to flirtation from superiors.

“As soon as there's a power imbalance, you risk entering the domain of what might be perceived as sexual harassment,” Sheppard said.

It’s also probably best to avoid nicknames like Honey, Toots and Bosoms McGee.

Sheppard co-authored the paper with Jane O'Reilly, Marius van Dijkec, Simon Lloyd D. Restubog and Karl Aquino, who may or may not have been flirting their arses off with each other throughout the course of the study.

The results do seem to be full of salacious details. For example: “Following guidelines detailed in Pedhauzer and Schmelkin (1991), we first assessed the factor structure with an oblique (direct oblimin) rotation. Based on the eigenvalues, a two factor structure emerged (the percentage of the variance explained was 44.75 and 16.63 respectively). However, the number of cross-loadings and weak correlation between the factors (r = 0.013) suggested that an orthogonal rotation would improve interpretability (cf. Thurstone, 1947). Pedhauzer and Schmelkin (1991) recommend a quartimax rotation orthogonal rotation when there is theoretical rationale to expect a general factor, thus we used a quartimax rotation (see also: Gorsuch, 1983, Visinescu and Evangelopoulos, 2014).”

Phew! I think we all know what they mean by “orthogonal rotation”, am I right?