American Perceptions of Appropriate Workplace Behavior

Ipsos Poll on Behalf of NPR

American Perceptions of Appropriate Workplace Behavior

The author(s)

  • Chris Jackson Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Mallory Newall Director, US, Public Affairs
  • Janine Beekman Associate Research Scientist, US, Ipsos Public Affairs
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Washington, DC — Inspired by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Ipsos, in partnership with National Public Radio (NPR), investigated Americans’ perceptions of, and experiences with, different examples of possible workplace sexual harassment. A recent Ipsos/NPR poll fielded in December suggested that most Americans believe it can be hard sometimes to tell what is sexual harassment and what is not. The present findings address this by measuring how Americans perceive different workplace scenarios that represent a range of sexual harassment severity.

When asked to rate the “appropriateness” of 12 different workplace scenarios, on a 7-point scale from always inappropriate to always appropriate, a coworker asking another coworker of equal rank on a date is seen as the most appropriate of all scenarios listed (28% appropriate). The scenarios perceived as least appropriate are spreading rumors about a coworker’s romantic/sex life (97% inappropriate), deliberate touching, leaning over, or cornering someone at work, and talking about someone’s sexual preferences or history at work, (both 93% inappropriate).

Power dynamics play a large role in respondents’ ratings of appropriateness. While a coworker asking another coworker of equal rank on a date is the most acceptable scenario, only 4% feel that a supervisor asking an employee on a date is appropriate. Gender has little effect on coworkers commenting on others’ appearances: 17% of respondents feel that a female commenting on a male coworker’s appearance is appropriate, compared to 15% of respondents who feel that a male commenting on a female coworker’s appearance is appropriate.

To gauge Americans’ social proximity to harassing behaviors, we asked whether respondents had ever seen these scenarios happen to others. Nearly three quarters (72%) have witnessed a male coworker comment on a female coworker’s appearance, and 70% have seen someone asking questions about a coworker’s social life. “Pet names” for women are also relatively common: 58% report witnessing someone referring to an adult female coworker as a “girl,” “babe,” “sweetie,” or “honey.”

Finally, we assessed experiences with harassing behaviors, both receiving and perpetrating.  55% said that asking questions about a coworker’s social life happened to them, while 41% admit to asking these questions about a coworker. One in four report that they have been touched, leaned over, or cornered at work, while 15% admit to telling sexually suggestive stories or jokes of a sexual nature in a professional setting. 14% have been asked out on a date by a supervisor, while only 5% admit to being a supervisor asking a subordinate on a date.

To view the full results of the study, please see the downloadable topline and/or data tables. The NPR story can be found here:
POLL: The ‘Inappropriate’ Office Behaviors Most Pervasive In Workplaces

About the Study

These are findings from an Ipsos poll conducted January 25-30, 2018, on behalf of NPR. For the survey, a sample of 1,130 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii was interviewed online in English. The sample includes 545 males and 585 females.

The sample for this study was randomly drawn from Ipsos’s online panel (see link below for more info on “Access Panels and Recruitment”), partner online panel sources, and “river” sampling (see link below for more info on the Ipsos “Ampario Overview” sample method) and does not rely on a population frame in the traditional sense. Ipsos uses fixed sample targets, unique to each study, in drawing sample. After a sample has been obtained from the Ipsos panel, Ipsos calibrates respondent characteristics to be representative of the U.S. population using standard procedures such as raking-ratio adjustments. The source of these population targets is U.S. Census 2016 American Community Survey data. The sample drawn for this study reflects fixed sample targets on demographics. Post-hoc weights were made to the population characteristics on gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, and education.

Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error and measurement error. Where figures do not sum to 100, this is due to the effects of rounding. An asterisk (*) denotes less than 1%. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all respondents. Ipsos calculates a design effect (DEFF) for each study based on the variation of the weights, following the formula of Kish (1965). This study had a credibility interval adjusted for design effect of the following (n=1,130, DEFF=1.3, adjusted Confidence Interval=4.6).

For more information about conducting research intended for public release or Ipsos’ online polling methodology, please visit our Public Opinion Polling and Communication page where you can  download our brochure, see our public release protocol, or contact us.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Chris Jackson
Vice President, U.S.
Ipsos Public Affairs
+1 202 420-2025

About Ipsos Public Affairs

Ipsos Public Affairs is a non-partisan, objective, survey-based research practice made up of seasoned professionals. We conduct strategic research initiatives for a diverse number of American and international organizations, based not only on public opinion research, but elite stakeholder, corporate, and media opinion research.

Ipsos has media partnerships with the most prestigious news organizations around the world. In Canada, the U.S., U.K., and internationally, Ipsos Public Affairs is the media polling supplier to Thomson Reuters, the world's leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals. Ipsos Public Affairs is a member of the Ipsos Group, a leading global survey-based market research company. We provide boutique-style customer service and work closely with our clients, while also undertaking global research.

About Ipsos

Ipsos is an independent market research company controlled and managed by research professionals. Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos has grown into a worldwide research group with a strong presence in all key markets. Ipsos ranks fourth in the global research industry.
With offices in 88 countries, Ipsos delivers insightful expertise across five research specializations: brand, advertising and media; customer loyalty; marketing; public affairs research; and survey management.
Ipsos researchers assess market potential and interpret market trends. They develop and build brands. They help clients build long-term relationships with their customers. They test advertising and study audience responses to various media and they measure public opinion around the globe.
Ipsos has been listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1999 and generated global revenues of €1,782.7 million in 2016.

The author(s)

  • Chris Jackson Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Mallory Newall Director, US, Public Affairs
  • Janine Beekman Associate Research Scientist, US, Ipsos Public Affairs