Studies refute common stereotypes about obese workers

Jul 18, 2008

New research led by a Michigan State University scholar refutes commonly held stereotypes that overweight workers are lazier, more emotionally unstable and harder to get along with than their "normal weight" colleagues.

With the findings, employers are urged to guard against the use of weight-based stereotypes when it comes to hiring, promoting or firing.

Mark Roehling, associate professor of human resource management, and two colleagues studied the relationship between body weight and personality traits for nearly 3,500 adults. Contrary to widely held stereotypes, overweight and obese adults were not found to be significantly less conscientious, less agreeable, less extraverted or less emotionally stable.

The research, done in conjunction with Hope College near Grand Rapids, appears in the current edition of the journal Group & Organization Management.

"Previous research has demonstrated that many employers hold negative stereotypes about obese workers, and those beliefs contribute to discrimination against overweight workers at virtually every stage of the employment process, from hiring to promotion to firing," Roehling said.

"This study goes a step further by examining whether there is empirical support for these commonly held negative stereotypes. Are they based on fact or fiction? Our results suggest that the answer is fiction."

The findings are based on two separate but convergent national studies. Roehling, who's also a lawyer, said the practical implication of the research is that employers should take steps to prevent managers from using weight as a predicator of personality traits when it comes to hiring, promoting or firing. He said such steps could include:

-- Adopting a policy that explicitly prohibits the use of applicant or employee weight in employment decisions without a determination that weight is relevant to the job.

-- Structuring the interview process to reduce the influence of subjective biases.

-- Using validated measures of the specific personality traits that are relevant to the job if personality traits are to be considered in hiring decisions.

-- Including weight-based stereotypes as a topic in diversity training for interviewers.

"Employers concerned about the fair and effective management of their work force," Roehling said, "should be proactive in preventing negative stereotypes about overweight workers from influencing employment decisions."

Source: Michigan State University

Explore further: Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

Apr 16, 2014

Science has often come to the rescue when it comes to the world's big problems, be it the Green Revolution that helped avoid mass starvation or the small pox vaccine that eradicated the disease. There is ...

Japan stem cell body splashes cash on luxury furniture

Apr 14, 2014

A publicly-funded research institute in Japan, already embattled after accusing one of its own stem cell scientists of faking data, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on designer Italian furniture, reportedly to use up ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

Two recent papers by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines for Dengue fever, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and other ...