Too Pretty to Hire? When Jealousy Creeps into the Workplace

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Jun 26, 2014

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 (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.

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.

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