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Washington Foster’s Barnes: Good Sex Leads To Good Job Performance

Christopher M. Barne

Christopher M. Barnes of the Foster School of Business at The University of Washington

Coaches used to tell athletes to abstain from sex the night before a big game out of fear it would impair their performance. That “wisdom” has been debunked. But how does it apply to the workplace? Does sex help people perform better on the job?

Yes, it does, according to Poets&Quants’ Professor of the Week, Christopher M. Barnes of the Foster School of Business of The University of Washington. His paper, “From the Bedroom to the Office: Workplace Spillover Effects of Sexual Activity at Home,” was co-authored with an All-Pacific Northwest research team of Keith Leavitt of Oregon State University, David T. Wagner of The University of Oregon, and University of Washington Ph.D. candidate Trevor Watkins. It was published in March in the Journal of Management.

The researchers observe that a growing body of research shows a “spillover” from one’s job to one’s home life and vice versa. “Employees’ home and work lives reciprocally influence each other, often in unanticipated ways…,” Barnes and his co-authors write. “Both positive and negative moods spill from home to work and work to home.”

SEX COULD HELP YOUR WORK LIFE

Barnes, who has studied the impact of sleep on people’s work lives, turned his attention to sex because he and his co-authors see it as a “heretofore overlooked home-life behavior with potential mood-enhancing implications that may spill over to the workplace.” They acknowledge that “sex is often excluded from management research because it may be perceived as taboo.” It is also taboo in business school classrooms and in the business media unless it’s part of a scandal.

But, as the authors write, “human biology research indicates that there are important hormone-based physiological processes that occur during sex that shape affective experiences, including positive mood the following day.” 

 “The effect of sex on mood appears to be largely nonconscious, hormonal, and evolutionarily prepared,” they continue. “Accordingly, elevations in mood due to sex may permeate work-life boundaries, even if employees attempt to cognitively separate their work and home lives.”

SEX DURING THE NIGHT, MORE EFFECTIVE WORK THE FOLLOWING MORNING

The authors cite a 2010 report from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB) at Indiana University, which found most working-age married men and women engaged in sexual activity at least several times a month.  Married people younger than 40 generally report having sex more often. 

Barnes and his co-authors had 159 married people working full time in various industries fill out a daily diary of their activities each morning, afternoon and right before bedtime. The diaries yielded a sample of 1,479 observations. The participants were 80% Caucasian (roughly 5% each were Hispanic, Asian American, or African American) and had an average age of 35. Of the people surveyed, 59% were women, 65% had at least one child, and 91% described themselves as heterosexual.

The researchers found that ”when [married] employees engaged in sex at home, they reported increased positive effect at work the following day, independent of the effects of marital satisfaction [and that] sex at home increased both daily job satisfaction and daily job engagement as a function of increased positive affect.”

A FIVE PERCENT BOOST TO MODD AT WORK

They even quantified that positive effect:  “a 5% increase in mood at work the next day for each time they engaged in sex the previous evening,” they write. Mood enhancement, they note, was stronger following intercourse than after other sex acts. 

Barnes and his co-authors point out that their findings may not apply to extramarital relations, which could produce “different affective experiences” and other complications. And they say that stress and “work-based strains can negatively impinge upon the sex lives of employees.” 

All in all, the researchers conclude, “sexual behavior does in fact positively impact both job satisfaction and job engagement the next day…The time has come to systematically examine how employees’ sex lives and work experiences may reciprocally influence one another.”

Barnes, 40, is an associate professor of management at Foster and the Evert McCabe Endowed Fellow. His research focuses on sleep, team performance and decision making, emotions, and ethics. He teaches classes on human behavior, focusing on leading teams and organizations, primarily to MBAs.

Barnes earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Pacific Lutheran University and his Ph.D. in organizational behavior and human resources from Michigan State. He taught at the U.S. Military Academy and Virginia Tech before joining the Foster School faculty in 2013. Before going for his Ph.D., he served as an active-duty officer in the U.S. Air Force, where he worked as a behavioral scientist in the Air Force Research Laboratory. 

Howard R. Gold is a contributing writer to Poets&Quants and a columnist for MarketWatch. His writing has appeared in Forbes, Barron’s, Money and USAToday. Follow him on Twitter @howardrgold.

See the entire Professor of the Week series