Monday, March 2, 2015

Why Your Weight May Determine Your Career Success

If you're one of the millions of Americans who are overweight, it's going to be more difficult to get a job or promotion at work.

That's because according to a new paper by Wharton University, "The Affective and Interpersonal Consequences of Obesity," there is clear bias against the obese -- even by those who themselves are overweight.

Some key insights from the paper:
  • Both men and women are biased against obese people.
  • If overweight people are found to be "warm," they can change the bias against them. 

"We're surprised at how important this idea of warmth is -- that is, this idea about expressing your close relationships with your family, your friends, your pets," Schweitzer says. "When people express warmth they're judged to be much more sympathetic. They're liked much better. And, in fact, these expressions of warmth could be even more important than actually losing weight in changing the way we're perceived by others."

Based on this research, it's clear that managers need to address their own biases when hiring and promoting workers. There needs to be unbiased questions that look at a worker's or applicant's skills -- not at the number on a scale. 

At the same time, colleagues need to think about how they possibly discriminate against those who are overweight -- and consider whether they may also be the targets of bias because they are also obese.

As Schweitzer notes, "The bias against overweight people, I think, is particularly pernicious because it's judged to be acceptable."

Finally, I think there are lessons for all workers about the power of being more personable on the job. While you may want to keep some details of your life private, it's always worthwhile to show a more "human" side so that people feel a stronger connection to you. That "warmth" may pay off with a new job offer or promotion.

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