Put „sex“ in a headline and it is guaranteed to go viral. This is why when an obscure town council member of a small Swedish community proposed that government workers be allowed to go home and have sex during their paid, one-hour lunch breaks the news went global.
Yet there is a bigger, more important story behind the headline hype, and it is about employee wellness. As the Swedish government official argued, sex breaks are health breaks, because they improve relationships and reduce stress. Any number of studies shows that workers are vastly more productive and engaged when they are healthy.
We asked a couple of experts for their insights on the potential pros and cons of employer-approved sex breaks, and if it might be a trend that catches on.
Your Brain on Sex
It is difficult to separate the physical and emotional benefits that sexual activity has with regards to lowering stress and anxiety, says Dr. Steve McGough, associate professor of clinical sexology at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS) in San Francisco.
Sex increases the brain’s production of oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone that boosts feelings of wellness, connection and love. At the same time sexual activity causes a significant decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone. “In modern society we tend to have chronically elevated cortisol,” he adds. We all know how bad that is for our attitudes and health.
The general increase in the release of sex and many related hormones does us no end of good, explains McGough. “This is like a breath of fresh air for your body. The result is you feel better, which impacts your emotional state.”
Not surprisingly, this helps us work better, too. Brand new research on married, working adults published in the Journal of Management reveals that those who had sex at home regularly for two weeks reported a positive effect at work the next day as well as increased job satisfaction and engagement. Clearly the Swedes are on to something.
Happiness at Lunch
Jen Teague, a staffing, hiring and onboarding coach for small businesses, believes the Swedish initiative is a good idea, at least from a purely physical perspective: “This perk releases stress usually brought about by work.” McGough comments that feelings of emotional sharing and connection resulting from sexual activity can profoundly help people feel more supported, and that employer support for sex breaks could increase job satisfaction and loyalty.
Yet both cite potential problems with a sex-at-lunch-break policy from an emotional and legal standpoint. McGough stresses that organizations would have to examine their policies around this benefit – is it only available to employees having sex with non-employees, or would it include relationships among employees? And for workers who are single or not in a relationship, does a benefit like this create a more stressful work environment for them?
(To be clear, the Swedish are not proposing to organize or arrange sex breaks for employees at lunch. The government initiative is aimed at married couples and encourages workers to use the paid lunch break weekly to go home and have sex.)
But Are They Realistic?
As fun as it sounds, lunchtime sex breaks (the employer-permitted version, that is) are not likely to take off broadly, believes Teague. Partly for the reasons stated above, and, in many countries, on general cultural grounds.
But that does not mean employers should not continue to innovate and push health initiatives for the workplace. In Teague’s experience, wellness challenges – giving employees points, for example, for cycling to work rather than driving, or for sleeping at least seven hours a night — usually earn a good response. “People exercise and eat better during these challenges, they tend to miss less work and are happier overall,” she says.
While most employees do not take full advantage of the health benefits that organizations offer, these perks still increase satisfaction levels. “They show that the employer cares and values its employees,” adds Teague. That, in the end, may be answer to raising productivity at work.
Kate Rodriguez is a freelance marketing copywriter based in Munich. She has over 20 years of professional experience in public and private organizations. A former international trade analyst for the U.S. government, she also worked as a university career coach, specializing in international career search. Most recently, she was employed at Experteer as a customer service agent and online marketing manager.