New colleagues may be treated differently depending on attractiveness, gender
Skillset, experience, work ethic—and appearance? According to a new Penn State study, reactions to a new work team member may differ depending on the newcomer's attractiveness and gender.
The paper, co-authored by Stephen Humphrey, Alvin H. Clemens Professor of Management in the Penn State Smeal College of Business, investigates how team members engage in rebalancing actions when a newcomer joins the team, and that these actions may differ depending on the newcomer's attractiveness and gender.
The primary findings of the research reveal that both attractive male and female newcomers were mimicked more often by existing team members compared to less attractive newcomers. According to the researchers, mimicking suggests acting like the new team member.
The paper, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, explores gender as a construct for perceptions of status. Research showed that attractive female newcomers who were highly committed to the team task were challenged by existing team members more frequently than all other types of newcomers—while attractive male newcomers who were highly committed to the task were almost never challenged.
"Our results show that existing team members will act in ways that either support or challenge the newcomer, based upon surface-level characteristics of that newcomer," Humphrey said. "It is therefore critical for a leader to consider how to manage these transitions in a way that avoids dismissing or alienating the new member, particularly in the case of new, attractive female members."
Due to the discrepancies between how men and women of similar attractiveness and commitment were treated by team members, Humphrey said managers should consider developing interventions in order to combat these potentially discriminatory actions.
To conduct the experiment, participants were randomly assigned teams to complete two tasks; the second of which involved the introduction of a new member. The newcomer was a confederate in the study, and was either a highly attractive male, a highly attractive female, or a less attractive newcomer (the control group). They were also instructed to display either a high or low level of commitment to the task.
After the tasks were completed, researchers collected measures of team members' displays of these three behaviors toward the new member:
- Mimicry (acting like the new team member)
- Ingratiation (giving the new team member recognition)
- Challenging (acting in opposition of the new team member)
Results showed that attractive male newcomers were mimicked more when they exhibited high commitment to the team task compared to when they exhibited low commitment to the team task. On the other hand, attractive females were more likely to be mimicked when they exhibited low commitment.
Attractive male and female newcomers were both ingratiated when they exhibited high commitment. Unexpectedly, less attractive newcomers who exhibited low commitment were also ingratiated.
The research suggests that managers should carefully consider how a newcomer's arrival may influence the hierarchy within a team, and how existing team members may respond as a result.
More information: Sung Won Min et al, Dealing with new members: Team members' reactions to newcomer's attractiveness and sex., Journal of Applied Psychology (2021). DOI: 10.1037/apl0000872
Journal information: Journal of Applied Psychology
Provided by Pennsylvania State University