People who are considered unattractive are more likely to be
belittled and bullied in the workplace, according to a first-of-its-kind study
led by a Michigan State University business scholar.
“Frankly, it’s an ugly finding,” said Brent Scott, associate
professor of management and lead investigator on the study. “Although we like
to think we’re professional and mature in the workplace, it can be just like
high school in many ways.”
While plenty of research has found that attractive students
tend to be more popular in school, the study is the first to link
attractiveness to cruelty in the workplace. The results appear in the research
journal Human Performance.
How the study was
The researchers surveyed 114 workers at a health care
facility in the south-eastern United States. The workers were asked how often
their co-workers engaged in cruel behaviour toward them (which included saying
hurtful things, acting rudely and making fun of them).
People who didn’t know the study participants judged their
attractiveness from digital photos.
The unattractive workers were treated much more harshly than
attractive employees even when other key factors were taken into account,
including age, gender and how long they had worked at the health care facility.
The researchers also collected information on how agreeable
or friendly the workers were, based on questionnaires completed by their
spouses, partners or good friends. The study found that disagreeable workers,
like unattractive employees, were treated more harshly than their co-workers.
“Our findings revealed that both personality and appearance
matter,” Scott said.
Knowing the potential targets of hurtful behaviour could
help managers monitor susceptible employees to prevent them from becoming
victims or to provide counselling and social support if prevention attempts
fail, he said.