New research suggests that it is no coincidence that the least attractive people in your office are the butt of all the jokes.
In a study published in the journal Human Performance, Drs. Brent A. Scott and Timothy A. Judge wanted to learn more about counterproductive work behavior – that is, “behavior intended to hurt the organization or other members of the organization.”
Specifically, they wanted to know what made certain employees a target of workplace abuse, aggression or antisocial activity.
The pair tested a model that discovered being on the receiving end of such behavior is related to an employee’s personality, his or her appearance, and negative emotions felt toward them by co-workers.
Scott and Judge identified three major employee characteristics that were likely to encourage emotion in their co-workers and to be associated (or not) with receiving abuse.
Behaviors of neuroticism (the tendency to experience negative emotions such as anger, hostility and anxiety), agreeableness (the tendency to be altruistic, warm and considerate), and physical attractiveness (as rated by others) were found to significantly influence co-worker behaviors.
For example, researchers discovered that disagreeable and physically unattractive employees received more abuse from their co-workers, and that co-workers felt more negatively about them, leading, again, to abuse.
While it’s no surprise that “neurotic” co-workers might be treated more harshly than the “agreeable” ones, the notion of beauty shielding workers from harmful banter is more complicated.
Scott and Judge refer to previous studies for some explanations. They note that physically attractive people are judged by others as friendlier, more likeable, and more socially appealing than physically unattractive people; they’re also treated better by others than unattractive individuals, even at work.
Experts have noted that emotions play a big part in predicting who might suffer abuse in the office, and beauty — a “socially desirable characteristic” — can certainly bring them out.
As Scott and Judge explain, “Attractive people may be aesthetically pleasant to others, eliciting positive emotion, while unattractive people may be aesthetically unpleasant to others, eliciting negative emotion.”
What do the results of the study mean for office politics?
Scott and Judge suggest that if managers know who might become targets of abuse, it might help them to prevent them becoming victims in the first place, or to provide support if they do.
As for the rest of us, “Although it is difficult to alter one’s physical attractiveness and, presumably, one’s level of agreeableness,” they write, “employees should realize that, whether fair or unfair, appearances and personality matter in the workplace.”
While you might’ve been told as a child that it’s “what’s on the inside” that counts, it’s now very clear that “what’s on the outside” counts just as much, at least around the water cooler.
Source: Alpha Galileo – Taylor & Francis