Sunday, 13 February 2011

Is the transactional component of reward affected by the height and weight of employees?

According to separate researches, carried out in different periods of times, by psychologist Timothy A. Judge, PhD, of the University of Florida and Daniel M. Cable, PhD, former researcher of the University of North Carolina and currently Professor of the London Business School, both individuals’ height and weight impact on the annual salary they receive.

The first study, whose findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 89, No. 3, 2004), was actually concerning the influence of height on annual salary. The study revealed that, in the workplace, literally, every additional inch (2.54 cm) of height counts and could be worth an average $789 a year. More in particular, the study suggested that individuals who are 6 feet (nearly 1.83 metres) tall earn in a 30-year career period time $166,000 more than a colleague who is just 5.5 feet (nearly 1,68 metres) tall.

The investigation was based on the analysis of four American and British longitudinal studies covering a panel formed by a total of 8,500 adult and young individuals.

Professor Judge explained that the reasons for taller people having a higher salary could rely on the circumstance that taller people are seen as more “leader-like and authoritative”. He also believes that taller people’s self-confidence and self-esteem are accrued by the circumstance that they, literally, “look down on others” and that others have to “look up to them”.

According to the study, the most sensible correlation between salary and height emerges in management and sales jobs, positions in which the role played by the customer perception has a more relevant impact. As such, height is most likely to influence salaries of people working in positions implying social interrelations in general, so that also technical and service careers are likely to be influenced by the height factor.

Although to a lesser extent, the study revealed that people height also plays a role in other jobs like crafts, clerical and blue-collar positions.

Amongst shorter people men are likely to experience more height bias compared to women.

In conclusion, the study suggests that height bias in the workplace, as well as attractiveness and body image, can influence salaries and interactions.

A more recent study, once again carried out by Dr. Judge and Dr. Cable, separately amongst 11,253 Germans and 12,686 U.S. residents, revealed that also people’s weight influences their salaries.

However, differently from height, weight interacts with salaries in a different manner according to the sex of the employees concerned. More specifically, the study suggests that overweight women have much more difficulties than their slimmer colleagues to climb the career ladder, and the reference does not relate to the awkwardness due to their volume.

In fact, whilst thin women are likely to earn more money if and as long as, they are able to stay thin, slim male employees are more likely to see their salaries grow if they acquire a few extra pounds (one pound is approximately equal to 454 grams).

The weight-reward continuum which emerges from this study is extremely detailed.

Women who are in good shape at the beginning of their career and gradually put on one or two stones (one stone is equal to 6.35 kilograms or 14 pounds) are likely to earn £10,000 a year less than they had if would have been able to curb their weight. According to this model putting on weight is, without question, detrimental. However, the effects on female employees’ bank account balance are less remarkable if they have started their working activities overweight. Women who have started their career svelte are likely to experience even more negative impact because of putting on additional weight.

Things seem, instead, working differently for men. A slim man who is putting on additional weight, in fact, is likely to see his salary increasing of £1,500 a year.

Actually, the findings of this study are slightly in contrast with previous studies results, which had showed that employers are less likely to recruit overweight people. It clearly appears to be contradictory the practice of avoiding to recruit people having a particular feature first, and pay then higher salaries to individuals who have acquired that characteristic within the organisation, although it cannot be denied that a sensible difference in treatment is reserved to overweight and obese people. Not to mention the fact that is nonetheless discriminatory and a no-no of recruitment and selection fair, more than good or best, practice put in place policies dominated by bias for weight, as well as by any other circumstances not directly linked to the ultimate aim of putting the right person in the right place.
Clearly, as suggested by researchers themselves, these differences are due to the impressions employers get about male and female candidates according to their shape and size.

Studies carried out in the 1980s contributed to stereotype people according to their weight attributing to each size well determined features and characteristics. “Well-proportioned” men were considered friendly, happy, brave, smart and polite. Slim men, in contrast, were considered sad, weak and sick. Overweight male were, instead, considered stupid, lonely, lazy and even dirty.

But also the influence of stereotypes perpetuated by modern media, proposing perhaps exceedingly thin female standards, unquestionably comes to play, causing women to pay larger bills compared to their male’s counterparts for putting on additional weight.

Dr. Judge (Daily Mail, February 5, 2011) explained that female employees who are average weight are likely to earn approximately a staggering £243,000 less during a 25-year career compared to women who are 25 pounds below average. On the other hand, across the same period of time, men who are 25 pounds below average are likely to earn £135,000 less.

In a report which Dr. Judge published on the study, he claimed that whilst detrimental effects on women salary are consequential to every weight gained, very slender women are those who are most severely punished for the first few pounds they put on.

Although media are also clearly fostering the myth of slim, robust and eventually muscular men, for some reasons their banking accounts seem, notwithstanding, benefit from their additional weight. But the trend suddenly reverses when extra weight is added. It appears that also in terms of fat discrimination there is some difference between men and female.

According to Dr. Cary Cooper (Daily Mail, February 2011), professor of the Lancaster University, it is very likely that recruiters are not even aware of the effects and influence exerted by candidates body image on their decision to recruit an individual. Moreover, it seems that body image is very likely to affect employers’ perceptions also when promoting and not only when recruiting individuals.

Professor Cooper claims that employers “brain will take in everything from what they (candidates/employees) look like and how they dress or their facial expressions and their body image”.

Another study, carried out some years ago and whose findings were published in the British journal “Equal opportunities International”, had actually achieved very similar results to the Judge and Cable study.

This investigation carried out by researchers Patricia Roehling, a psychology professor at Hope College, Holland, Michigan, Mark Roehling of Michigan State University and other colleagues, concluded that although putting on weight is detrimental for women and even advantageous for men, when both sexes cross the threshold into obesity, the negative impact of this is reflected equally in both sexes.

The relationship between weight and pay and career is not a brand new area of investigation and the presence of linkages is reportedly undeniable. What is still controversial is the role played by discrimination, or rather by deliberate discrimination, in this area.

According to the findings of Yale University researcher Rebecca Puhl (National Post, 2009) obese individuals undergo discrimination at every stage of the employment life cycle, “from getting hired to getting fired”. Dr. Puhl claims, in fact, that obese people are very likely to be paid less for equal work and that organisations are prone to “hire an unqualified thin person than a qualified overweight person with better credentials”.

In a report to their study (titled When It Comes to Pay, Do the Thin Win? The Effect of Weight on Pay for Men and Women), instead, Dr. Judge and Dr. Cable point out that their study’s findings don’t support the existence of employers discrimination practices, it should be added not deliberately, at least. The authors write, “It is possible that employee performance is the causal mechanism linking weight and income, although at first brush it is difficult to understand why women’s performance would decrease most as they moved from being very thin to average weight, whereas men’s performance would increase most with these same weight gains. However, perhaps the weight–income trends that we observed are due to performance in the sense that employees are more able to influence others and get things accomplished when they conform to the media’s ideal body form. In this sense, employees who conform to societal body expectations may perform better, and employers may simply be rewarding good performance in a non-discriminatory manner”.

If Dr. Judge interpretation is correct, that is if the difference of treatment due to employees weight is actually relying on the capability of fatter people to deliver better results, it would not be the case for discrimination. The different treatment could not be directly related to employees weight which, weirdly enough, in this case would represent, in fact, an indirect means to an end, but this circumstance should be better demonstrated. Notwithstanding, deliberate or involuntary discrimination clearly plays an important role and it cannot be accepted whatsoever.

If organisations should really adopt compensation and reward policies based on weight, appraisals, for instance, should be then carried out by dieticians rather than managers.

The weight bias and every kind of bias linked in general to the appearance of candidates and other factors not directly linked or relating to the only objective to put the right person in the right position should be banned from every organisation. Practices based on such elements could possibly be justified in models agencies, where these elements would represent requirements for the position to be filled as well as could be having a relevant HR Qualification to fill a particular HR role.

Clearly HR Professionals have to play the role of an internal watchdog and insist on the importance of job evaluation and of reward philosophies and practices consistent and coherent with the overall business strategy, ultimately aiming to enable the organisation to achieve competitive edge in the marketplace.

It would be ludicrous having on the one hand HR Professionals aiming to formulate, implement and foster reward practices based on the importance of the real contribution given by each employer to the success of an organisation and on the other hand employers rewarding staff on the basis of their ability to resist in front of a piece of cake (which, it cannot be denied, is difficult too but has nothing to do with the workplace).

Health and Safety practices aiming to promote good health and body are clearly helpful and staff would surely appreciate them, since a healthy diet has beneficial effect on the overall health of people, which is even more important of what individuals have into their wallet. But this is a quite different subject.
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