Mendoza School of Business

Unattractive People Are Targets For Cruelty At Work

Published: August 31, 2013 / Author: David DiSalvo

Your workplace probably differs from the social scene of a typical high school in significant ways, and most would agree that’s a good thing. But a recent study reveals that when it comes to how attractive and unattractive people are treated, your office and your high school aren’t so far removed.

The study, conducted by researchers from Notre Dame and Michigan State University, had a simple aim: to find out if less attractive people are treated poorly in the workplace more often than physically attractive people, despite personality traits. The researchers surveyed 114 workers at a health care facility about how frequently co-workers treated them cruelly—defined as saying hurtful things, acting rudely and making fun of them (behaviors collectively referred to as “counterproductive work behavior”). The researchers also took digital photos of those they surveyed and asked a different group of people, who didn’t know the first group, to judge their attractiveness.

The results suggest that physical attractiveness plays at least as big a role in how someone is treated at work as personality. Even if someone is gregarious and open to new ideas (two of the studied personality measures), he or she is more likely to be treated cruelly if physically unattractive.

“We find that unattractive individuals are more likely the subject of rude, uncivil and even cruel treatment by their coworkers. And, not only do we, as a society, perceive attractive and unattractive coworkers differently, we act on those perceptions in ways that are hurtful,” said study co-author Timothy Judge, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

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Topics: Mendoza