A Michigan State University scholar has countered commonly held beliefs that obese office goers are lazier, more emotionally unstable and harder to get along with than their "normal weight" colleagues.
With the findings of two new separate but convergent national studies, Mark Roehling, associate professor of human resource management and colleagues have urged employers to guard against the use of weight-based stereotypes when it comes to hiring, promoting or firing.
Roehling and his team studied the relationship between body weight and personality traits for nearly 3,500 adults. And they found that contrary to widely held stereotypes, overweight and obese adults were not significantly less conscientious, less agreeable, less extraverted or less emotionally stable.
"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," said Roehling.
He added: "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."
According to Roehling, who's also a lawyer, the practical implication of the research requires the employers to 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.
Another step could be structuring the interview process to reduce the influence of subjective biases and using validated measures of the specific personality traits that are relevant to the job if personality traits are to be considered in hiring decisions.
The employers should also include weight-based stereotypes as a topic in diversity training for interviewers.
"Employers concerned about the fair and effective management of their work force should be proactive in preventing negative stereotypes about overweight workers from influencing employment decisions," said Roehling.
The research, done in conjunction with Hope College near Grand Rapids, appears in the current edition of the journal Group and Organization Management.