Chun Zhang, University of Dayton – Beauty Premium in Business

A beautiful employee may not always get the best marks from customers.

Chun Zhang, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Dayton, explores how the “beauty premium” may not be the boost it was thought to be.

Chun Zhang is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Dayton. She holds a Ph.D. from Concordia University. Her research interests are in branding, service marketing, culture, and communication. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Business Research, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Journal of Promotion Management and Marketing Education Review.

Beauty Premium in Business

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There’s a stereotype in business: Beautiful employees are paid more, get better job evaluations, and in the case of CEOs, have better stock returns.

But the “beauty premium,” as it’s called, may be wearing off — at least in the service industry.

Research I did with colleagues at Concordia University in Canada and the Sun Yat-sen University in China shows hiring beautiful employees can even backfire, if customers see themselves as less attractive.

In one study, we asked people waiting to board a flight to read a scenario about service from a flight attendant. They also viewed a picture of the employee, randomly seeing either an attractive or unattractive flight attendant, based on prior research defining beauty.

Next, participants rated the attractiveness of the flight attendant, their own attractiveness, and the service received.

We found people who saw themselves as less good-looking, but thought the flight attendant was attractive, rated the service as low quality.

We also asked participants whether they think there’s a connection between beauty and skill.

And, even those who said there was no connection between beauty and skill tended to rate the service from the attractive employee as low quality.

So, customers who see themselves as less attractive may feel anxious about making a good impression and perceive a greater social distance between themselves and a beautiful employee.

In a world that admires and hires beautiful people, our research suggests there’s a potential downside, at least in the service sector.

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