Like it or not, physical attractiveness plays a role in determining certain workplace outcomes. For example, research demonstrates that physically attractive employees are often perceived to be higher in ability, receive higher compensation, and garner more attention in the hiring process than less attractive employees.
So, do hiring managers value attractiveness more than actual valid predictors of job performance, such as cognitive ability and conscientiousness? Additionally, is physical attractiveness valued more for jobs high in customer contact? Do companies try to put their best looking foot forward?
RESEARCH ON ATTRACTIVENESS DURING SELECTION
In order to answer these questions, the researchers (Tews, Stafford, & Zhu, 2009) collected data from a sample of 130 managers from various hotels owned by a chain in the U.S. and Canada. The researchers created 47 profiles (simulated job applicants) that were used to obtain “employment suitability” ratings from the sample of managers. Regarding physical attractiveness, managers had access only to the facial features of the applicants.
Overall, the researchers found that managers valued cognitive ability and conscientiousness more than physical attractiveness regardless of the job in question. This, however, does not mean that an attractiveness bias does not exist. What it does suggest is that managers (at least those in this study) do not necessarily value attractiveness at the expense of valid predictors of job success.
ATTRACTIVENESS AND DIFFERENT TYPES OF JOBS
The research findings also suggest that the value placed on attractiveness may depend on the amount of customer contact required of the job; Managers valued attractiveness more for a front office position compared to a housekeeper position.
This study provides evidence that although an attractiveness bias may exist in employee selection contexts, it is not always at the expense of valid information — which is good news for organizations.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR ORGANIZATIONS
However, one big question remains: Is the attractiveness bias fair? Although this seems to violate the idea of meritocracy, “unattractive” job applicants are not a protected class under U.S. federal law. This is unlike race, gender, national origin etc., which are protected classes and similarly experience documented discrimination. So for now, organizations have the legal right to put their prettiest faces forward, regardless of whether or not it leads to actual workplace success.
Tews, M.J., Stafford, K., & Zhu, J. (2009). Beauty revisited: The impact of attractiveness, ability, and personality in the assessment of employment suitability. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 17(1), 92-100.