How do millennials view sexual harassment?

How do millennials view sexual harassment?

Baby boomers. Gen X. Millennials. Gen Z.

If you regularly pay attention to the news, you’re bound to read or hear stories about generational mindset differences on all kinds of topics, including sex, relationships and work.

No matter which generation you belong to, the points from surveys and studies can seem sensationalized and weirdly far-off from your reality.

But they also are often the best window we have into how general mindsets could influence things like workplace culture.

Millennials are a current hot topic in the press for good reason: they are the fastest-growing (and soon to be largest) segment of the workforce. And given the media’s frequent focus on sex and workplace equality, it’s worth considering why general millennial mindsets on a couple key topics might be making sexual harassment and discrimination training in the workplace more important than ever.

Tolerant views on sex

Millennials as a group are very open minded and tolerant about sex. For example, a recent San Diego State University study by Professor Jean M. Twenge, which was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that “Millennials are more accepting of premarital sex than any previous generation.”1 At the same time, millennials are 10 percent more likely than their generation X peers (45 compared to 35%) to have sex with a casual date outside of a monogamous relationship.2 This by no means indicates they are bigger risk takers or even more promiscuous than previous generations because the numbers show they have fewer partners on average than gen Xers.3

Researchers and pundits draw all kinds of conclusions from these types of numbers, but we just want to make one point: in the workplace, open mindedness about sex without a clear understanding of what is acceptable under the law could lead to all kinds of challenges for employees and employers alike. It’ll take a few years to develop good data about how millennials view and handle workplace relationships and sexual harassment issues, but proactive training policies could help you avoid being on the wrong side of the statistics.

Tech savvy and social

Stories about how millennials are often more comfortable interacting online rather than in person are almost becoming cliche. So we won’t bombard you with more stories about dating app use or sexting. Rather, it’s just important to note that when it comes to sexual harassment, millennials enthusiasm for technology and social media could present new types of complications for workplaces. For example, smart phones and other devices blur the lines between work and home, creating more potential for misunderstandings or harassment. Moreover, technology and media may even change how some employees respond to harassment. Some may challenge discrimination or harassment through social media rather than proper internal channels because they aren’t confident that their complaints will be handled fairly, for instance.4

Relaxed attitudes

Researchers who study millennials note how they are a highly individualistic generation. That’s not to say that millennials aren’t social or don’t care about society (they care deeply about social responsibility), but rather many have more live-and-let-live attitudes toward rules and long-standing social norms.5, 6

For employers, the important takeaway is that easy-going attitudes about rules and sex need to be tempered with a clear understanding of legal responsibilities. Otherwise, the potential for misunderstandings and harassment (even if it’s inadvertent) could quickly grow.


1 Beth Downing Chee, Changing Attitudes About Sex, San Diego State University News Center, May 5, 2015.

2 Emily Shire, Millennials Are Very Mixed Up About Sex, The Daily Beast, May 6, 2015.

3 Changing Attitudes About Sex.

4Millennials Increasingly Using Social Media to Challenge Harassment and Discrimination, Win-Win HR, September 4, 2014.

5Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends, Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C., March 7, 2014.

6 Changing Attitudes About Sex.