Too Pretty to Hire? When Jealousy Creeps into the Workplace

From istockphoto.com

Regardless of your religious affiliation, you’re probably familiar with the story of David and Goliath.

(If not, spoiler alert: Goliath, a 9-foot-something giant, was knocked in the head and felled by a single stone from the slingshot of David, a mere teen at the time.)

But do you know what happened to David after he defeated Goliath? In a nutshell, David was given a place of honor in King Saul’s army and then spent the next several years beating the stuffing out of Saul’s enemies.

You might think Saul would be pleased as punch to have such a kick-ass soldier on his team, but no. When the people started talking about how great David was, Saul went bananas and tried to have David killed — a few times.

Saul, you see, was crazy jealous of David. And it didn’t matter that David worked for Saul or that David’s victories were Saul’s victories.

It also didn’t matter that David was only doing his job and hadn’t provoked Saul’s envy. Saul still wanted David gone, like yesterday. Things got so bad, David had to flee into the wilderness.

When green-eyed jealousy creates workplace chaos

An article at Forbes.com (When Being Too Pretty Costs You the Job) makes a startling claim: When two researchers set about studying the importance of photographs for job seekers, they found that female HR professionals were apt to “pass” on other female candidates who were perceived as too attractive.

What in the world?

According to The Economist, which originally published the study, “an attractive woman would need to send out 11 CVs on average before getting an interview; an equally qualified plain one just seven.” Attractive men, on the other hand, were more likely to get a call back than their more homely brethren.

After discounting a few theories, the researchers concluded that the female HR employees were simply jealous.

Disturbing bias

One reader commented that she didn’t necessarily see the relevance of the study, since American job seekers tend not to attach photos to job applications, but I think she kind of missed the point. Human psychology is human psychology, regardless of whether the human speaks with an American or European accent.

And, whether the HR professional is viewing a photo or sitting one-on-one with the attractive candidate like say, I don’t know, during a job interview, the prospect of that kind of bias creeping into the hiring process is disturbing.

Finally, if women are going to discriminate against other women on the basis of looks (which I’m guessing/hoping is an unconscious bias) then why wouldn’t this bias find its way into other areas of the workplace?

Now, I’m told there are plenty of studies to suggest that pretty women, once hired, are more readily promoted and make more money than less attractive women.

Even so, this research is a powerful testament to the destructive nature of envy at work.

Been there, done that?

I bet quite a few of us could recount a story of someone being forced out of an organization and/or discredited because someone else thought the individual’s light shined a little too brightly. This individual had too much talent, too much charisma, too much influence, too much integrity, or too much something that made the covetous employee burn with envy and begin plotting his target’s demise.

Article Continues Below

And if you’re a veteran manager, admit it: once in a while you’ve been known to feel some type of way about a younger, fresher face that gets the attention of higher ups, while here you’ve been working your tushy off with barely any recognition.

Hmmm …

What to do?

If you’re the jealous manager, admit your feelings to yourself (no reason to deny them), forgive yourself for being human, and then do your flippin’ job, which includes coaching, mentoring, and developing the rising star. Don’t be petty, don’t be mean, don’t be snippy, and don’t hold this person back. It’s wrong and bad for the organization and your soul.

You gotta trust your gut

If you’re the employee suffering under your manager’s covetous stare, again, do your job and in as professional a manner as humanly possible, because even if your boss hates you, there’s nothing he can do to take away your experience or diminish your knowledge or capabilities. Nothing.

(Of course, if your boss is the supremely nasty sort who can’t be trusted, you should also take plenty of notes to document her bad behavior and begin looking for a new job STAT.)

Office jealousy is one of those workplace bugaboos (like lying and sociopathy) no one wants to admit could be true, because making certain claims out loud sounds paranoid and well, nuts. (Not to me, though. You can always confide in me, and I’ll believe you 100 percent.)

Even so, people do get jealous of other people at work. It’s a fact. And, sometimes these jealous people do bad things as a result.

Don’t be a victim. Keep your eyes open and trust your gut.

And please, don’t be a perpetrator. That’s even worse.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

Topics

1 Comment on “Too Pretty to Hire? When Jealousy Creeps into the Workplace

  1. Sadly, every place I’ve worked with women there were jealousy issues.
    Thankfully, there were always some sincere genuinely nice ladies around but overall women in the workplace have always been catty. As soon as I would step on the scene these women developed unhealthy obsessions with me while I could care less about them.
    Maybe that was part of the problem because I can be pretty aloof in the workplace as I totally mind my own business.
    And of course being naturally tanned can provoke a bevy of haters.
    Some years ago I worked at a bank with all women in the department. One day I went to lunch and returned to find a thumbtack in my face on a photograph that was on my desk. The branch manager (a male) sent all the ladies home without pay which made the innocent ones snitch on the perpetrator.
    As it turned out a female manager had done this. How appalling!!
    The branch manager made her apologize and suspended her. She told me I walked around like a prima donna. Seriously??? It’s utterly unbelievable what women have to go through in the workplace with other women. Entrepreneurship is the only way to avoid them. That way you get to control your own environment. And even still they want to show up there.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *