A new poll conducted by NPR and Ipsos has found that while the majority of Americans agree on what constitutes inappropriate workplace behavior, very few are willing to admit to that behavior themselves.

It’s not terribly shocking that survey respondents aren’t eager to fess up to acting badly — even in an online survey. What is surprising is the behavior that respondents found the most egregious. In light of the #MeToo movement, one might assume that activities like unwanted touching, comments on appearance, or propositions of romance would be at the top of the list.

So what made it to number one?


A full 97 percent of the 1,130 respondents said that “spreading rumors about a coworker’s sex life” was inappropriate, followed closely by “discussing coworkers sexual preferences, history,” at 93 percent. Next on the list was the expected “deliberate touching, leaning or cornering.”

Respondents had a lot less clarity about commenting on a coworker’s appearance (around half thought this was a no-no), asking questions about a coworker’s social life (45 percent said it was inappropriate), or asking an equal-ranking coworker on a date (30 percent said no dice).

The survey also asked respondents if they had witnessed a given behavior or done it themselves. About 40 percent of people said they had witnessed the spreading of rumors about a coworker’s sex life, but only 6 percent admitted to having done it themselves. If that number seems a little low, take the far more innocuous example of “asking about a coworker’s social life.” While less than half of respondents found this to be inappropriate, only 40 percent admitted to having done it themselves. Anyone who’s ever worked with other humans knows the true number has to be a whole lot higher. The fact that people don’t want to admit on an online survey that they’ve asked about a coworker’s social life shows just how charged this conversation is.

NPR also found that people’s feelings varied widely depending on age and gender, with young men the most lenient about workplace behavior. In the 18-34 cohort, only 51 percent of male respondents thought it was always inappropriate to talk about someone’s sexual history or preferences at work, and only a third thought it was always inappropriate to call a woman names like “girl, babe, sweetie, or honey.”

Older men and women were the most likely to find pretty much everything inappropriate, which is interesting. You might think that folks who grew up in the Mad Men era would have a more relaxed view about sexualized workplace interactions.

One particular survey response points to how this assumption is exactly wrong. According to NPR, women 55 and older were significantly more likely than any other cohort to find referring to an adult female coworker as “girl, babe, sweetie, or honey,” as always inappropriate. It seems that women who have experienced this kind of treatment firsthand are the least tolerant. The rest of us could likely learn a lesson or two from their experience.

Read more about the poll here.

(photo via Getty Images)