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Study Finds a Sexy Way to Engage Employees
Published Friday, March 10, 2017

Maintaining a healthy sex life at home can boost employees' job satisfaction and engagement at the office, according to research from Oregon State University (OSU). The study, titled Workplace Spillover Effects of Sexual Activity at Home and published in this month's Journal of Management, was co-authored by Keith Leavitt from OSU; Christopher Barnes and Trevor Watkins from the University of Washington; and David Wagner from the University of Oregon.

To understand the impact of sex on work, the researchers followed 159 married employees over the course of two weeks, asking them to complete two brief surveys each day. They found that employees who engaged in sex reported more positive moods the next day, and the elevated mood levels in the morning led to more sustained work engagement and job satisfaction throughout the workday. The effect, which appears to linger for at least 24 hours, was equally strong for both men and women and was present even after researchers took into account marital satisfaction and sleep quality, which are two common predictors of daily mood.

Sexual intercourse triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the reward centers in the brain, as well as oxytocin, a neuropeptide associated with social bonding and attachment. That makes sex a natural and relatively automatic mood elevator, with the benefits extending well into the next day.

“We make jokes about people having a spring in their step, but it turns out this is actually a real thing and we should pay attention to it,” says Leavitt, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Business.  “Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organizations they work for.”

The study also showed that bringing work-related stress home from the office negatively impinges on employees’ sex lives. Leavitt says that in an era when smart phones are prevalent and after-hours responses to work emails are often expected, their findings highlight the importance of leaving work at the office. He adds that when work carries so far into an employee’s personal life that they sacrifice things like sex, their engagement in work can decline. 

“This is a reminder that sex has social, emotional and physiological benefits, and it’s important to make it a priority,” says Leavitt. “Making a more intentional effort to maintain a healthy sex life should be considered an issue of human sustainability, and as a result, a potential career advantage."

U.S. employers probably won’t follow a Swedish town's proposal to offer municipal employees an hour a week for sex, an effort intended to boost the town’s declining population while improving employee moods and productivity. But Leavitt says employers here can steer their employee engagement efforts more broadly toward work-life balance policies that encourage workers to disconnect from the office. For example, the French recently enacted a law that bars after-hours email and gives employees a “right to disconnect.”

“Technology offers a temptation to stay plugged in, but it’s probably better to unplug if you can,” says Leavitt. “And employers should encourage their employees to completely disengage from work after hours.”

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