Do looks matter in the work place? There are a lot more unattractive people running departments and entire companies than there are pretty ones - but a new paper by academics says just the opposite. Pretty people have an easier time on the job.

The paper by Timothy Judge, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame, and Brent Scott from Michigan State University, is the first to link attractiveness to cruelty in the workplace. 

In their Human Performance paper, the scholars sought to examine counterproductive work behavior and its effect on employees. After surveying 114 workers at a health care facility, asking them how often their co-workers treated them cruelly, including saying hurtful things, acting rudely and making fun of them, the "attractiveness" of the 114 was judged by others who didn't know them.

"Our research is novel because it focuses on how coworkers treat attractive and unattractive colleagues," says Judge, who specializes in management psychology, gender and leadership personality. "We find that unattractive individuals are more likely the subject of rude, uncivil and even cruel treatment by their coworkers. And, not only do we, as a society, perceive attractive and unattractive coworkers differently, we act on those perceptions in ways that are hurtful."

Considerable research has correlated "beauty" with labor market outcomes, such as earnings, performance ratings and career success. Attractive people seem to be more self-confident and have higher self-esteem and they are perceived as more intelligent and even moral. Some papers even claim that seeing attractive individuals puts us in a better mood.

"Given that physical attractiveness is not a bona-fide occupational qualification for most jobs, our new findings are problematic for society," Judge says. "Worse, research reliably shows that we're more influenced by attractiveness than we are willing to admit."

If it's real, it's a problem with no easy solution, especially given the increasingly visual nature of communication - we can't create a quota system based on appearance.

"Awareness is surely one important step," Judge says. "If we recognize our biases and are more open and honest about their pervasiveness, we'll be in much better shape to combat the influence."

"Beauty, Personality, and Affect as Antecedents of Counterproductive Work Behavior Receipt" was recently recently published in Human Performance.