Beautiful people do not always win at work

According to research, people who are deemed attractive earn morehave better job ratings, and are more employable. It has been proven that engaging CEOs are more likely to bring in better returns.

Retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch may have hired employees based on their looks because they believe that consumers will buy more from attractive people. Abercrombie claims it has stopped using that since 2015.

Some evidence suggests that the “beauty bonus” for workers is wearing off, at least among those who work with consumers. In TV commercials, retailers and other companies are increasingly using “real people” – with their flaws and all – to give brands an authentic feel.

Recent research by several colleagues suggests that this is a good approach to take with customers. Our studies show that the beauty premium can be a false promise and even have a negative effect.

Beauty can create distance.

In our first study, we wanted to understand better how consumers react to attractive service staff.

We asked 309 students to read a description of being served a meal at a restaurant and then look at the image of the person we described as a waiter.

The participants were randomly assigned to view either a female or male server whose facial features had been edited to show high or low levels of attractiveness based on previous research that defined beauty. Separately, we used objective measures of attractiveness for participants to be rated on the same scale.

The participants were then asked to rate how attractive the server was and how close they felt “psychologically” to them. The participants also rated customer satisfaction, service quality, and the likeability of the server on a range from low to high.

The closer a customer felt to the waiter, the higher the rating of the service. If they felt distant from the waiter, they were more inclined to give them poor marks. We also found that those who felt the server was attractive, but did not feel attractive themselves – based on our objective beauty assessment of their appearance – were more inclined to feel distance.

We wanted to find out if this distance was more about their perception of themselves or any objective measure. We then conducted a similar study in which we recruited 237 individuals who were waiting for a flight to depart from China’s third largest airport located in Guangzhou. They were asked to read a story about a flight attendant providing a meal or some other service on the plane, and then view a photo of that employee. As in the first study, participants were randomly shown either attractive or unattractive flight attendants.

Then, they rated their own attractiveness and that of the attendant. They also indicated if there was a link between beauty and talent. They also rated their service.

Participants who rated themselves as less attractive felt more distant from a beautiful flight attendant, and they were more likely to think the service was of lower quality. Participants who claimed that there was no connection between beauty, skill and service also tend to rate attractive employees’ services as poor.

The results of a third study in which we interviewed consumers who had just interacted with a customer service representative face-to-face at a mall, confirmed those from the previous two. Each study revealed a link between attractive workers and a negative customer experience for those who are not as attractive.

Our research shows that in a world where beautiful people are admired and hired, there is a downside. At least in the service industry.

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