Looks Personality Affect Colleague Treatment
August 2, 2013

Looks And Personality Affect How Your Colleagues Treat You

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Responsible parents may teach their kids "don't judge a book by its cover" or "real beauty is on the inside," but those same parents may not be following their own advice when it comes to relationships in the workplace.

According to a new study in the journal Human Performance, less attractive and less agreeable people tend to be the target of counterproductive work behavior (CWB), or "behavior intended to hurt the organization or other members of the organization."

In the study, which included over 110 employees at an unnamed healthcare facility in the southeastern US, two researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Notre Dame tried to see whether an employee's personality and appearance had an effect on co-workers sending negative emotions their way.

They began by identifying employee traits that could potentially arouse emotion in their co-workers and be linked to abuse. These characteristics included a tendency toward hostility and anxiety (neuroticism), being considerate (agreeableness) and physical attractiveness, which was ranked by people who did not know the study participants.

To determine incidence of CWB, the researchers asked participants how often their co-workers engage in certain abusive behaviors toward them on a scale of 1 to 5. Sample abuse behaviors in the survey described when employees "Say hurtful things to me" or "Act rudely toward me."

The study results confirmed that less attractive and less agreeable people are more often on the receiving end of workplace abuse.

"Frankly, it's an ugly finding," said co-author Brent Scott, associate professor of management at Michigan State. "Although we like to think we're professional and mature in the workplace, it can be just like high school in many ways."

"We're more influenced by attractiveness than we are willing to admit," study co-author Timothy Judge, a management professor at Notre Dame, told the Wall Street Journal. "We act on those perceptions in ways that are hurtful."

To explain a reason behind these behaviors, the researchers pointed to previous studies which have found that physically attractive people are typically judged to be friendlier, more likeable, and more appealing than less attractive people. In general, good-looking folks are often treated better than their average or unattractive peers in a variety of situations outside the workplace, the study authors said.

"Attractive people may be aesthetically pleasant to others, eliciting positive emotion, while unattractive people may be aesthetically unpleasant to others, eliciting negative emotion," the authors wrote.

Judge said appearances and dispositions will only grow in importance as video and social media have a greater and greater effect on the workplace.

While the study sheds some light on a social problem and confirms what some people already believe, the study authors said their findings could be useful for managers looking to optimize productivity and minimize inter-personal conflicts.

"Although it is difficult to alter one's physical attractiveness and, presumably, one's level of agreeableness," the authors wrote, "employees should realize that, whether fair or unfair, appearances and personality matter in the workplace."

"Physical attractiveness is not a bona fide occupational qualification for most jobs,"Judge noted.