Perceptions of social-sexual communication at work: The effects of message, situation, and observer characteristics on judgments of sexual harassment

Denise Haunani Solomon, Mary Lynn Miller Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Scopus citations

Abstract

Social-sexual communication at work may contribute to either the initiation of an organizational romance or sexual harassment. We examined forces that influence perceptions of sexual messages as harassing rather than flirtatious. We presented 94 working adults with questionnaires soliciting workplace attitudes and experiences. Then, participants reviewed newsletters describing male and female coworkers in a fictitious organization. Finally, participants evaluated the degree of sexual harassment evident in six hypothetical interactions wherein one of the employees introduced in the newsletter makes a suggestive remark to his or her coworker. Newsletters and questionnaires manipulated the explicitness of messages, the initiator's status as supervisor versus subordinate, the attractiveness of the message initiator and target, and the initiator's sex. Message explicitness accounted for 88% of the variance in perceptions of harassment. A five-way interaction among message and situational cues suggested that perceptions of sexual harassment are also influenced by contextual information. Females rated highly explicit messages as more harassing than did males, and individuals who were more accepting of socializing or dating between coworkers rated scenarios as less harassing. Exposure to socializing at work had a curvilinear association with perceptions of harassment such that ' low to moderate exposure corresponded with perceptions of greater harassment and moderate to high exposure was associated with lower ratings of sexual harassment. The discussion highlights applications for sexual harassment training programs within organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-216
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Applied Communication Research
Volume25
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics

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