In the treacherous environment of workplace politics where everything can and will be used against you, is there such a thing as being too good-looking? According to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology from researchers at the University of Florida, attractive children who received more encouragement in academic endeavors were subjected to more positive interactions with others. The study concluded that being treated better in academic settings meant more substantial advantages for attractive people because of the confidence they acquired, and that translated to higher income.
“I think beauty is an advantage in any environment or situation. Of course it won’t be a decisive factor in our performances but you can always count on it when developing a network,” says Gabriel Descalu, a corporate recruiter based in Europe.
But what complicates matters is the fact that the cute factor has different and often opposite consequences for male and female employees. Good-looking men are viewed with respect and admiration. Many women, on the other hand, find that a good face and a nice figure incite undue criticism and jealousy.
While many people might scoff at the notion that being attractive can be anything but a boon in the work place, many employees are finding that a prettier/handsomer face often gets in the way of doing a good job.
Here are some signs to recognize if you feel like the work environment has turned on you because of your looks.
Your accomplishments get overshadowed
You never miss a deadline. You’re punctual, friendly and always contribute ideas that get implemented. So when you produce work that is stellar, why aren’t your colleagues recognizing your achievements?
“If you want to be quote unquote ‘taken seriously’ you have to play down your looks, irrespective of what your other accomplishments might be. It’s a kind of socialism in the workplace,” says Noelle Ibrahim, a consultant based in New York.
One reason may be that the coworkers feel that your looks puts you at an unfair advantage and begrudges you any share in positive feed back.
“Frequently, people assume any achievements relate to your beauty instead of your brains,” says Dr. Helen Harkness, career counselor and founder of Career Design Associates.
While it’s important for anyone’s self-esteem to receive due recognition for excellent output, the best advice here is to not take too things personally. If the quality of your work is good, it doesn’t matter who praises you. It’s quite common in an office setting for colleagues and bosses to stay mum on good results but speak up loudly when things fall apart.
You attract unwanted attention
“Physical beauty creates notice in the workplace,” notes Dr. Harkness. This is the number complaint from good-looking female employees— unwanted attention from undesirable coworkers and even supervisors. Harkness suggests moving the attention away from beauty to one’s brains and ability instead.
For women, the challenge is to not let your frustration turn into anger. It is easy to let these feeling get mingled but when you get angry, you end up saying and doing things that you might ultimately regret later on. Be careful how tread these murky waters because any complaint can lead you in the danger zone of sexual harassment.
First thing to do if you are receiving too many comments about your appearance is to detract those praises towards your skills. If a male coworker remarks, “Those are some sexy shoes.” You could reply with something like, “Thank you. Now only if my presentation this morning was sexy enough to close that deal.”
Another thing to do is to drop hints about your “wonderful husband/boyfriend.” If men are pursuing you, they’d be more likely to be discouraged knowing that you’re in a committed relationship. If you’re single, you might try to engage in dialogue about your desire to have a big family someday. “Isn’t the Octo-Mom fabulous? I wish I could have 8 babies.” This should be a guaranteed turn off for men everywhere.
A third thing to try is by making the subject of your office conversation be always about the work at hand instead of letting conversation drift into personal territory. If the dialogue in the office is always about the newest movie in the theater, you don’t have to engage in a type of conversation that can easily lead the opposite sex to invite you out.
The worst thing that can happen is that you get labeled a workaholic and there’s nothing wrong with that.
You get treated with cool indifference
Workers that are physically attractive can also be victims of the “too cool to touch” syndrome. Many pretty women will complain that good looks often deter others from approaching and this can be damaging on the job where teamwork is often highly valued.
For men, physical beauty is an asset here because more often than not, coworkers value a man’s comeliness over that of a woman’s. “Men can be more attractive and get away with it,” notes Dr. Harkness. The handsome male employee is twice as likely to be promoted and respected than the pretty female employee.
To gain respect and acceptance from colleagues, put the focus on connecting with people in the office. Humor is always appreciated and if you can find ways to make colleagues and bosses laugh, it’s a great icebreaker. Even though coworkers may be reluctant to approach you at first, if you make your personality stand out through clever and funny anecdotes, it’s bound to bring people to your side.
“It is more about approachability. I know some folks who are not considered very attractive but are very successful in the business world because they are wonderful communicators,” says Anna Wildermuth, an image consultant coach at Personal Images Inc.
Jealousy is ruining your work life
Coworkers are notorious for letting jealousy get in the way of a productive work environment. Especially if you happen to be an attractive member of the team, your appearance can often be the driving factor in the minds of others and not the quality of your work.
“People are just ravenously jealous of physical beauty, especially if you are a woman,” says Ibrahim. Be prepared to take some hits if you are a woman working on a team of mostly women— the dynamic can be a particularly brutal one.
To avoid conflict, do your best not to bring attention to your looks. Moderation is always key in an office setting so if you have new apparel, don’t show it off all at once. Stick to neutral colors and a tidy hairdo. Your objective is to move the focus to the work at hand.Because most jealousies stem from insecurities— male and female— the best advice in combating this is by helping others know that you are on their team. Allay the fears of jealous coworkers and bosses by sharing credit for your efforts. “Thank you. I couldn’t have done it without your support.
Try complimenting others on their successes while you secretly bask in your own achievements. Humility goes a long way in the work environment. If you are willing to acknowledge others for their efforts, it’s much harder for them to begrudge you your accomplishments. Also, there is truth to the old saying, ‘keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.’ Those that start as rivals could easily end up as friends and many successful professional relationships have stemmed from such auspicious beginnings.
You’re the target of office gossip
With unwanted attention from coworkers comes the natural tendency for people to talk. Because physical beauty incites curiosity, it makes it that much easier for people to want to know more about you.
Be wary of coworkers who spend too much time talking with you and with others. Because random chatter can easily balloon, keep conversations moderate and limited to work-related topics. Don’t vocalize your preference for anyone in the office and most definitely, don’t express your complaints about anyone.
Remember that intelligence and competence always wins out. So no matter what people say, keep your attention on doing the best you can. No one should be able to argue that you don’t work hard and that your work is less than exemplary. If you stay neutral on all non-personal conversations, chances are that office mates will just find you uninteresting and leave you to do your work.
In the complex world of office politics, it just may be your greatest achievement.
For more articles from Ji Hyun Lee, please check out:
The Politics Series: The Politics of Facebook Friending your Colleagues | The Politics of being a Woman on the Job: Why can’t we all just get along? | The Politics of Being Young on the Job: Managing the Kid Boss | The Politics of being cute on the job: Are you too Sexy for the Workplace? | The Politics of the bad boss | The Politics of Office Romance
Everything in between: Tips for managing the Millennial Generation | When You’re Smarter than the Boss | Knowing When to Speak Up and When Not to |Equal Work, Unequal Pay: What to do if You’re the Victim of Gender Discrimination
Do you need advice dealing with awful coworkers, bosses and other workplace issues? Find the author on Twitter @JiHyun42 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell her all about it. You could be featured in an upcoming article!