Pornography, Sex Addiction, and the Work Place

OfficeI’ve been compiling materials for a presentation to business leaders about the impact of sexual addiction on the workforce. This is a real problem, and hopefully people will wake up to it. Here are some ways that sex addiction affects the bottom line for companies.

1. It wrecks marriages, which affects workers’ productivity

The trajectory of sex addiction is obvious and universal: left unchecked it will destroy relationships, especially marriages. So why should business care about employees’ personal problems? Because these personal problems dramatically affect absenteeism and productivity when people are on the job. Glenn Cohen recently published a research report about the link between “successful relationships” and the bottom line in companies. Listen to this:

Divorce effects the workforce — a real concern for management. For example, in the year following divorce, employees lose an average of over 168 hours of work time – an equivalent of being fully absent four weeks in one calendar year. In addition, before divorce, high marital stress is associated with increases in work loss days – a person with marital distress will lose more than 38 more days of work per year than someone with average marital stress. Can employers prevent this sort of negative impact?

Indirectly, relationship problems and divorce impact overall worker productivity more frequently than death in the family, serious illness, problems with children, substance abuse, and depression. In addition, an inefficient and unprofitable work environment results from the many factors experienced by employees in failing relationships: increased absenteeism and presenteeism (being physically present but mentally absent), decreased health, increased anxiety, and stress.

Presenteeism can affect an employee for days or longer causing decreased productivity and profits. Lost productivity on the average is a half times greater then that lost to absenteeism. The Harvard Business Review estimates that presenteeism costs American Business $150 billion annually in direct and indirect costs. (Dixon, Weighing the Costs of Presenteeism, The Chief Executive, June 2005)

“Presenteeism” is an interesting concept, and especially problematic for the sexually addicted employee, as we’ll see below. Later in the report Cohen discusses the ROI of employee wellness programs (which usually include some kind of relational component): “We found several studies that break down the returns on investment (ROI) in employee wellness programs. While most companies report initial losses because of having to find the right fit for their employees, long-term results show savings of $1.40 – $4.90 per every dollar spent, and an ROI of up to $6.85 for every dollar invested in employee relationship wellness programs.”

2. Addictive behavior can bleed into the workplace, causing loss of productivity , especially with inappropriate computer use

Addictive behavior in the workplace also leads to a hostile work environment, which will be talked about later. What’s important for business leaders to grasp at this point is the immense drain on productivity that porn use leads to in situations where it’s left unchecked. This is where “presenteeism” is so a blatantly problematic: how productive is an employee who is sitting at his desk looking at pornography? Check out the results of a few studies on the prevalence of porn use at work:

According to one survey, conducted by Queen’s University in Belfast for porn-filtering firm SurfControl at 350 companies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, 28% of those questioned said they had downloaded sexually explicit content from the Web while on the job.

Statistics show that worldwide, corporations lose billions in the resultant reduced productivity. According to the 2003 Computer Crime and Security survey conducted by the Computer Security Institute and FBI, 80% of companies reported that employees had abused Internet privileges, for example by downloading pornography or pirated software…This abuse of Internet privileges is real problem for organizations, with real monetary ramifications and it shows no sign of letting up. More recently, International Data Corp. estimated that 30% to 40% of employee Internet use isn’t work related… About 70% of all Web traffic to Internet pornography sites occurs between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., according to SexTracker, a porn industry consultancy.

In May 2004 Businessweek printed the results of a ComScore Networks survey where 44% of U.S. workers with an internet connection admitted to accessing an X rated website at work in the month of March 2004, as compared to 40% of home users and 59% of University users.

Another survey showed lower numbers. Here’s how one report read: “Nearly a quarter of men view pornography in the workplace, according to a newly published poll by Harris Interactive. Of the 500 people surveyed, just under a quarter of men admitted to looking at pornography at work, compared to 12 per cent of women.” However, many people – including this blogger – scoff at such a low figure. Of course people are going to under-report their porn use! Here’s what one blogger reported, while vilifying the results of the above-mentioned report: “One SVP of Communications at a company told me (I assured him anonymity) that according to their logs, the top three most visited websites by their employees were all porn sites.” We need to keep in mind something very important: it’s really hard to get accurate honest answers from people who are being asked to self-report about their porn use. Studies that are based on actual web logs — tracking behavior and not relying on peoples’ memory or honesty — will always be more reliable.

One final point needs to be made here. The drain on worker productivity caused by porn use is not limited to what happens in the office from 9 to 5. This is purely anecdotal, but consider that most addicts that I work with talk about staying up into the wee hours of the morning viewing porn at home. How productive would you guess they are they the next day, when they are feeling guilty and sleep deprived?

3. Legal issues with firing employees for internet porn use

Loss of productivity – due to time lost on the job – would be bad enough, but it gets worse. Many companies are having to fire employees because of inappropriate computer use. From a web site I mentioned earlier: “More than 30% of 1,500 surveyed companies have terminated employees for inappropriate use of the Internet, while only 37.5% of companies use filtering software” (their source was: Websense Incorporated and The Center for Internet Studies, 2000.).

If companies don’t fire employees for porn use at work, not only do they allow time wastage due to excessive personal computer use, they also are creating a hostile work environment for others. In an article I sited earlier, the authors contend: “Far more frightening than even the loss of productivity and revenue from Internet misuse is the liability placed upon the corporation….The transfer and/or display of sexually explicit or inappropriate content has been known to create a hostile work environment for employees and has resulted in embarrassing and expensive lawsuits.”

And then there is the question of what happens when an employee who is dismissed for inappropriate computer use decides to fight back. You might have read about an employee at IBM who was fired for inappropriate internet use. He is now suing the company for wrongful termination, claiming sex addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and age discrimination as part of his defense.

One article on the legal battle reports this line from the employee’s defence: “IBM workers who have drug or alcohol problems are placed in programs to help them, and Pacenza [the ex-employee] should have been offered the same”. Pacenza, however, was told there were “no programs for sex addiction or other psychological illnesses”. For its part, IBM claims that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically omits sexual behavior disorders as “coverable”.

This is yet another example of how politicized the debate about the validity of sex addiction as a psychological disorder can get, and the consequences of identifying it as such. It seems likely that this issue is not going away. Companies are going to have to be very careful, and very explicit about their internet use policies.

4. Legal issues surrounding sexual harrassment claims

I’m not going to say as much about this, because it’s gotten lots of attention in other contexts. I made the point earlier that when sexually addictive behavior bleeds into the workplace, the result is often a “hostile work environment.” This isn’t just about pornography use. Think of the hostile work environment that gets created when someone uses sexually inappropriate language or makes unwanted sexual advances. This is by no means a new problem: it’s been happening ever since men and women have been working together. But it’s exacerbated by the hyper-sexualized culture that we live in, and the confusion about sexual boundaries that pornography creates.

4 thoughts on “Pornography, Sex Addiction, and the Work Place

  1. hats online shop for you

    I made the point earlier that when sexually addictive behavior bleeds into the workplace, the result is often a “hostile work environment.” This isn’t just about pornography use. Think of the hostile work environment that gets created when someone uses sexually inappropriate language or makes unwanted sexual advances.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*