Eye Candy Shows Slack?

I had a meeting this morning at a management consulting firm that does a lot of government business. Waiting in the lobby, I noticed that their employees are especially good looking. I remembered also noticing this about a similar firm a few years ago.

This makes sense – if you were a government employee choosing among competing firms, you might well choose on the basis of the best eye candy for your regular meetings, since your other personal stakes in the outcomes are so weak.

This suggests that studying how physical attractiveness varies with industry, occupation, and position could give us a window into agency failures at work. That is, it could show us where some employees are especially free to choose for their personal benefit, rather than for a larger benefit. Even when they leave clear evidence of this self-dealing. Seems like a project for an enterprising data-gathering grad student.

Now it could be that some people just place an especially large value on working with attractive others, or that in simple places having attractive associates is an important signal of status. But honestly, while those might be contributing factors, it is hard to believe those are usually the main effects.

Added 11a: Eric Barker a while back:

[Advertising] firms with better-looking executives have higher revenues and faster growth than do otherwise identical firms whose executives are not so good-looking.

Yup – since it is so hard to tell which ads help, folks who hire ad firms probably have a lot of slack.

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  • Your enterprising grad student might also want to relate this research to the Hot Waitress Economic Index.

  • JMD

    It seems more likely to me that the effect works in the selection of employees. It’s well-documented that tall, attractive people in general have more success, and management consulting is a lucrative and (in some circles) well-regarded field. It seems likely that people who have been boosted their whole lives by their attractiveness would end up in high-paying and prestigious fields at high rates.

  • Jason

    I think its a selection effect but a different kind. The top graduates of the top schools often choose between consulting and banking or hedge funds. Consulting is seen as the work life balance superior of the two, more time for partying and going out on the weekends. Who benefits most from this? Probably attractive people.

    • lemmy caution

      This is a good idea.

      Also if your job is to impress/convince people, it probably helps to have charisma/attractiveness.

  • Chris Gregory

    I worked in an advertising company where all the female graphic designers were big-breasted blondes whose salaries seemed directly related to their physical dimensions. The boss didn’t much care about the work (he ended up in jail for stealing computer equipment, which he must have done out of compulsion rather than any sort of necessity). But the real eye candy was the rows of Apple Macs, which were always the latest models…except the boss would always skimp on memory and storage so many of them were barely usable.

    Another agency I worked for had a Silicon Graphics Indy, which nobody knew how to use. But the screensaver was impressive, and clients were always shown the machine, which sat there unused but turned on. It was kind of like a hideously expensive lava lamp, and it probably did attract clients.

  • lemmy caution
  • art

    at my top ugrad business school there was a term w/r/t management consulting called “optics;” as in, you don’t have the optics (attractiveness) to succeed in consulting so you should choose another career path.

    Also, I would argue that banking is the better choice as it is more lucrative and has better work-life balance compared to consulting, where you travel 4 days a week, if not more (unless you count the first couple years at a big bank where you are hazed upon and required to work insane hours).

  • Miley Cyrax

    “That is, it could show us where some employees are especially free to choose for their personal benefit, rather than for a larger benefit. Even when they leave clear evidence of this self-dealing”

    I’ve had similar discussion with friends about this. For many men, bringing in attractive (younger) female hires is the best way to bring in fresh meat into their lives, since so much time is spent at work and most men don’t have the ability to be cultivating new prospects out at bars and clubs with consistency.

    The more “male-dominated” the industry, the greater premium female attractiveness will command relative to female competency in getting hired, and not getting fired.

    One area where this is not an agency problem is sales, where female attractiveness is revenue-generating for the firm in itself, and looking good while prancing around in high heels is a business-related competence of its own.

    • Solvent

      Off topic, but are you Miley Cyrus on LW, by any chance?

  • Faze

    I’m one of those people who chose where to work based on the appearance of co-workers. I’d been working uptown in network television for eight years, when my project was cancelled and I needed to find other employment. I was offered a position at Chemical Bank on Wall Street. I was taken around to meet my potential co-workers in the beautiful white skyscraper with the Dubuffet sculpture out front. But as I walked the halls, I could not help wondering where all these nice but frumpy-dumpy people came from. I suddenly realized that I did not want to work in that place. I did not want to pay the cost of living in Manhattan, to spend all day with peopel who looked like they lived in Queens. In television, I’d gotten used to being in an office with people who were all pretty much attractive (I now wonder if that wasn’t a factor in my own hiring there). So when a second job offer came along in healthcare, I grabbed it. Why? When I arrived for my interview, the first person I laid eyes on was not only good looking, she was one of the two or three best looking people I’d ever seen. “I could work here” I thought — and I still do. Healthcare may not have as many good looking people as television, but there are enough, and enough people who are extremely smart, to support a very happy work environment.

  • Vaniver

    I’ve heard that at firms where HR does most of the hiring, attractive women are discriminated against (while attractive men are discriminated towards). The explanation is that HR tends to be staffed by moderately attractive women, who see attractive women as competition and are thus biased against them.

  • Jeff

    I’ve worked at two different audit/accounting firms in my career; one that specialized in serving clients in the financial services industry, and another whose specialty was auditing government agencies and programs.

    The women at the firm with the government focus were substantially more attractive. Not even close, really.

    Government work is less mentally demanding in my experience, though, so the latter firm probably had less of a need to seek out the best and the brightest and could get away with placing more weight on aesthetics or “optics,” as someone referred to it above when making personnel decisions. So whether the firm hired attractive women merely because of personal preference or because they thought this was a sound business strategy is hard to say. Could have been both, actually.

    • AspiringRationalist

      Selecting employees for attractiveness indicates slack somewhere, whether it’s in your own organization or in the organization that hires you.  This extends to many jobs that have an explicit focus on visual appearance, such as modelling; if consumers are more likely to buy clothing that they see attractive people wearing, that tells us that they have trouble distinguishing the quality of the clothing for themselves.

  • Someone from the other side

    I don’t bite. While I have known a bunch of attractive consultants (I work for one of the top firms), they are by far the minority. Might be related to the fact that most MBA students are pretty average looking, too.

    Now, there is potentially something to be said for consultants being of above average HEIGHT (both male and female)

    Maybe the people you saw where assistants, rather than consultants….

  • Seem

    A lot of jobs are about persuasion rather than analysis as such and attractiveness can be very beneficial for this. This blog overrates intelligence – outside a university or silicon valley it’s just not the be all and end all.

  • Robert Koslover

    You say:

    …if you were a government employee choosing among competing firms, you might well choose on the basis of the best eye candy for your regular meetings, since your other personal stakes in the outcomes are so weak. [Italics added]

    Robin, you seem to be insulting government employees in general here, most of whom do not deserve that particular insult. I’ve known plenty of hardworking committed government employees who take their jobs quite seriously and are clearly personally-invested in succeeding in their goals and doing the “right thing,” — so they certainly wouldn’t consciously choose a firm to do a job based merely on eye candy. That said, I still think our government is horribly bloated, terribly inefficient, overly-powerful, overly-costly, wasteful, often a destroyer of free markets, etc. But that doesn’t mean that typical government employees, individually, are at fault. In fact, they are very much like the rest of us and try to do their jobs properly.

    • Mark M

      Nobody said it was a conscious choice.

      I was surprised when I first found minimum wage workers in an oft-maligned industry (telemarketing) who really and truly cared about doing the best job they could for their employer. Since that time, about a decade ago, I’ve consistently found that wage level and industry seem to have little impact on motivation and job satisfaction.

      In other words, you should not be surprised to find employees who take their jobs seriously and are personally invested in any industry and at any wage level.

  • Mark M

    You say:

    Yup – since it is so hard to tell which ads help, folks who hire ad firms probably have a lot of slack.

    They can tell which ads help. It’s done with statistics, which means it’s easy to get wrong or misrepresent, but it’s measurable with a surprising degree of accuracy.

    • David C

      Some internet ads give you feedback on how much they’re helping your business in certain areas, but not in all of them. Individual TV ads, billboards, news articles, and magazine ads? Not so much unless they become a central part of your advertising process, and you see a big boost in sales after a major advertising initiative. There’s the old saying, roughly paraphrased: “Only 50% of your advertising dollars will help you, and you can’t ever tell which 50%.”

  • Were they uniformly attractive across age and sex dimensions, or was the sample biased because the employees were young?

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  • vibrant77

    Majority of people assume all attractive people have the upper hand in all industries. Simply not true. Hospitality, consulting, sales, retail, entertainment, fashion are where attractiveness is rewarded and necessary. Most small and large corporate companies have jealousy rampant and its proven they discriminate against highly atttractive applicants. Look at the recent headlines of lawsuits from attractive females in the business world whose bosses and coworkers made their lives miserable because they are deemed “a distraction” and presumed to sleep their way to the top. I don’t know what the answers are to stop any sort of discrimination, but it seems people need to look at themselves and deal with their own securities before projecting unfairly onto others