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The phrase “sleeping with the boss” is certainly a loaded one. Just a rumor of an employee sleeping with the boss is enough to bring forth a ton of questions, and it can change the workplace environment – not always for the better. Having a personal relationship with co-workers can be complicated, and it can be an even bigger deal if it’s with a superior.
While some jobs discourage employee dating, and some explicitly disallow employee-supervisor relationships, there are still boundaries that exist regardless of the rules at any one workplace (for example, sexual harassment guidelines say that sex can’t be used as a condition of employment or promotion).
However, sleeping with the boss is not an unprecedented phenomenon. We examined the workplace dynamic through the eyes of over 1,000 employees regarding these sexual relationships and their outcomes. Let’s take a look at the possible professional and social outcomes of sleeping with the boss.
Seduced by a Superior
First, we looked at how many respondents were hit on by either a co-worker or manager. Over 35 percent reported they’d been hit on by a colleague, while only 9 percent said that a manager had tried to woo them. However, a solid 27 percent said they’d been hit on by both, and 28 percent said no flirtation had been attempted by either a colleague or management.
Next, we divided up the responses by gender to see if men’s and women’s experiences differed at all. More women than men, for example, reported they’d been hit on by both managers and colleagues, while more men noted they’d never been hit on by either. And there were almost two percentage points between men and women when discussing whether they’d been hit on by a manager or other superior – with more men than women affirming. Also, men were 32 percent more likely than women to think that it was fine for a manager to sleep with the employees under them.
Finally, we looked to see if there were any variations in response by industry. For those who had never slept with their boss, a little more than half of those in the construction industry were cool with the possibility, while less than a quarter of those in government or public administration roles cited it was A-OK. It turns out that women are definitely underrepresented in the construction industry – they only account for around 9 percent of the total construction workforce. This could be a factor in the views of the industry as a whole, at least in regards to getting busy with the boss.
Reactions to Relations
We then asked respondents if (at any point in their career) they knew of a colleague who had slept with the boss. A whopping 58 percent said “yes.”
We followed that question up with another – what would you do if you found out one of your co-workers had gotten busy with the boss? Most people said they would do nothing – over 64 percent, in fact, would keep that information to themselves. However, not everyone would be keen to stay mum. Sixteen percent said they’d dish to another colleague, and a little over 11 percent would actually send an anonymous tip to their HR department.
The less-frequently cited responses were even more direct and interesting, with around 6 percent saying they’d attempt to sleep with their colleague, 4 percent attempting to blackmail their boss, and a little more than 3 percent posting about it on social media. What factors are behind those who are interested in sleeping with their colleague who slept with the boss? Are they hoping for leverage in the business, or do they feel that this fact make their co-worker more attainable?
Also 40 percent of employees admitted they’d been attracted to their manager or other superior at some point over the course of their career – but hadn’t acted on it.
Mixing Business and Pleasure
We’re now getting to those employees who have slept with their boss. Our survey results found that 28% employees had done the deed with their boss. Twenty-seven percent of women and 28 percent of men polled said they have slept with their boss. While you can’t be certain of the reasons behind this gender disparity (nor the sexual preference of those involved), perhaps male bosses are less likely to initiate contact with their female subordinates specifically due to fears of sexual harassment complaints (although both men and women can be the victims of sexual harassment). Also, studies have shown that men tend to over-inflate their sex partner estimates, while women tend to keep more concrete track of their partners.
We also looked at the different management levels to see if there was any divide between them in regards to workplace sexual shenanigans. By far, those who identified as general managers were the most likely to engage in this activity (roughly 34 percent), while associate-level employees were right behind them (around 26 percent). The least likely management level to engage with their employees on a very personal level were entry-level managers (approximately 19 percent).
Finally, we checked out which fields were the most likely to see employee-management rendezvous. Overall, the hospitality and food services, technology, and wholesale and retail fields were the top three industries for sleeping with the boss. Those in government and public administration were the least likely to sleep with their boss.
Flattery in the Cubicles
As we’ve discussed above, there is a very fine line between sincere, work-appropriate compliments and sexual harassment, and crossing that line can be risky, especially for those in a supervisory position. What may seem like a compliment to an underling can in fact be offensive or construed as harassment, so it's vital for bosses to keep compliments sincere and performance-based.
The No. 1 most commonly cited “clue” (reported by nearly 55 percent of employees who slept with their boss) was that the boss was constantly joking and flirting with them. The next most common occurrence was a lot more direct: Around 50 percent said their boss invited them to hang out outside of work.
Other common indicators included playful or sensual body language (46 percent), physical contact (44 percent), frequent compliments (33 percent), and 28 percent reported their boss showed them preferential treatment.
A multitude of reasons exist as to why employees choose to sleep with their boss. Interestingly, men were twice as likely than women to sleep with their boss with the hope that it would eventually lead to a promotion. However, the top reason cited for getting together with a boss was simply sexual attraction (cited by over 66 percent of respondents). A close second was because they wanted to have a good time (52 percent), and nearly 22 percent said they felt power was attractive. Twenty percent admitted that both parties were drunk during the experience.
The less common reasons seemed to involve hopes for additional benefits. Twelve percent said they slept with their boss so they could receive a pay raise, and 11 percent were after a larger bonus – the same amount was also hoping for a promotion. Around 10 percent slept with their boss to receive additional vacation or sick days, and 8 percent hoped to help a colleague get a raise, while 7 percent slept with their boss to help a friend get hired.
What Happens After?
Now we know why people slept with their boss. However, we have to know what happened as a result. Interestingly, the most commonly cited result was that the employee had another hookup with their boss (40 percent), so the first get-together wasn’t an isolated event. And a pretty big chunk of people – over 25 percent – said they wound up forming an intimate relationship with their boss, with 22 percent noting their boss’s attitude toward them changed for the better.
There were other positive effects from this situation, including a pay raise (15 percent), promotion (13 percent), and a larger bonus (8 percent), but it wasn’t always good news. Some reported that their colleagues started rumors about the tryst (11 percent), HR had to get involved (just shy of 8 percent), and 3 percent shared that they received a demotion as a result.
Mixing Love and Work
Finally, we wondered how workplace romances affected the relationship between the two parties – the boss and his or her employee. While the personal outcome of a workplace romantic moment can vary, so too can the professional relationship. Fortunately, it’s mostly good news, with over 51 percent saying the relationship stayed the same, and 34 percent stating that it took a turn for the better. Same goes for job satisfaction and stress level – most respondents who slept with their boss reported that everything stayed the same or improved.
There is one interesting note with stress levels though – while roughly 45 percent of respondents noted their stress level remained the same, the rest of the respondents were split between “more stressed” and “less stressed.” This could be due to the varied nature of office romances and how individuals react to changed relationships. Even if the professional relationship doesn’t change, it can still be stressful to deal with any real or perceived fallout (especially if one party is hoping to keep the encounter a secret).
Gettin’ Busy at Work
We found that sleeping with the boss isn’t entirely uncommon, as 28% respondents reported that they had done just that. The reasons for doing so were pretty varied, and while some may argue that getting a charge to notice you’re interested in them may tiptoe the line of sexual harassment, our poll takers shared that the outcome, for the majority anyway, was mostly A-OK.
However, while there is a chunk of folks who do sleep with the boss, remember that most don’t. And while the outcomes are often neutral or beneficial, there is a percentage of people who don’t report a positive reaction once the deed has been done. Some people may also find it easier to leave their place of employment as a result of their tryst, so exploring brand new work options (and beefing up that resume) may be on their radar.
Methodology and Limitations
The findings presented in this campaign were gathered by administering online surveys via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. To qualify for the surveys, participants had to be currently active in the workforce. For this study, our team conducted three separate surveys: One exploring perceptions of sexual relations and flirtations in the workplace, one to determine the percentage of employees that slept with their boss, and one inquiring about the reasons and outcomes of sleeping with their boss. The graphics showcasing the top reasons, top outcomes, and change in life quality after having sex with the boss had a minimum sample size of 233 respondents who said they slept with their boss. If respondents answered an attention-check question incorrectly or entered inconsistent information, they were disqualified from the survey.
To determine any change in professional relationships, job satisfaction, and stress levels, participants were asked to rate their professional relationship, job satisfaction, and stress level before sleeping with their boss and after sleeping with their boss. Respondents were presented with seven-point scales to rate each factor. Based on this order, our team determined if one scenario resulted positively, negatively, or remained the same.
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