Could a youthful appearance give jobseekers an edge over the competition in a tight labour market?
There’s no easy answer to that question — but more and more workers are springing for cosmetic procedures such as injectables and plastic surgery in an effort to promote their career growth — and the focus is largely on looking youthful, according to a survey of 400 people and 500 doctors by RealSelf Trends.
Nearly one-third of the doctors surveyed said they are seeing younger and younger patients requesting procedures to reduce the appearance of aging, found the survey.
Why? Many people are trying to get a career boost, according to Ron Shelton, dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Centre of New York, and an associate professor at the Mount Sinai Medical Centre.
There’s also been a notable rise in procedures among the over-60 crowd, who in decades past may have been enjoying retirement — but these days, they often want to remain in the workforce longer, said Shelton.
“That 35-plus age group is there, it’s always going to be there… they want to maintain their youthfulness at work.
“But I’m really seeing in the last two years that the (people in their 60s) are coming in — people who not only know that they are contributing significantly to their line of work, but they enjoy it and they want to remain in the workforce,” he said.
“They can’t help but see the trends — the more relaxed atmosphere, the younger generations coming in, and just the way people dress. So it’s a constant reminder that they’re of a different age group.”
More mature workers requesting cosmetic procedures is undoubtedly a trend, said Gordon Patzer, professor at the Walter E. Heller College of Business Administration at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
“First of all, there’s a new consciousness about that — there’s no question about it. And there’s a consciousness about that raised among older workers,” said Patzer, who is also founder and CEO of the Appearance Research Institute.
“However, the procedures that have occurred have also increased, and if you look at the data in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., you’ll see that among the age categories, the numbers are increasing more among older individuals than among younger individuals.”
Data from the various plastic surgery medical associations isn’t broken down according to work reasons or non-work reasons, so we have to make a small assumption here, said Patzer.
“We do know, however, among the workforce that older people certainly are much more conscious of their looks relative to the increasingly young workers and the young managers,” he said.
“That has no doubt translated into an increase in cosmetic surgery actions among those individuals.”
There’s also been a notable increase in the number of men having cosmetic procedures, said Patzer, adding probably about 20 years ago, about 95 per cent of cosmetic procedures were for females.
“Then about five, six years ago, I started seeing it was running about 90 per cent female, 10 per cent male. And now, it’s about 85 per cent female and about 15 per cent male,” he said. “We certainly have seen males seeking out cosmetic surgery — both the invasive and non-invasive procedures — to enhance their physical attractiveness.”
Factors at play include industry, social media
The trend is particularly pervasive in sectors such as the tech industry, said Julie Khanna, surgeon and president of the Canadian Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in Toronto.
“We really saw this trend when Bill Gates was a CEO at a very young age,” she said.
“You don’t have to be a grey-haired old guy in a suit anymore. You can be an innovative thinker and somebody who’s in touch in the world, and that can make you a better leader.”
Any industry that has a strong focus on being cutting-edge, new, innovative or edgy might have a stronger susceptibility toward these pressures among mature workers, she said.
“Definitely, we’re seeing it… anywhere that where you’re younger, you’re considered to know more about it. I think tech for sure, media and fashion for sure,” she said. “(In these industries,) looking old has a stigma with it.”
Areas such as Silicon Valley are perhaps the most striking example, wrote Baltimore-based plastic surgeon Michele Shermak for RealSelf.
“Such are the pressures in Silicon Valley, where the startup spirit rewards fresh ideas and young programmers. Chief executives in their 20s, symbolized by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, are feted, in part because of their youth. Many investors state that they prefer to see people under 40 in charge.”
This is definitely contributing to the fact there are more men undergoing cosmetic procedures, said Khanna.
“The other thing I think that’s also behind this trend is the Internet — so the perception that you’re going to be out of touch if you’re not involved with social media and involved in those aspects of the new business world,” she said.
“That’s what’s driving this whole idea.”
Another factor is the rise of less invasive procedures, according to Patzer.
“Non-invasive procedures have increased dramatically in the last decade. If you look at it annually, cosmetic surgeries have increased every year for the last four or five years… but non-invasive or the minimally invasive procedures have been increasing much (more),” he said.
This is perhaps because individuals can get significant results with less cost, less effort and less recovery time, he said.
Nips, tucks and promotions
It’s pretty clear the pressure for cosmetic procedures is there, at least psychologically — but does that translate into actual results? RealSelf conducted a blind study of 400 employees, showing them before and after pictures of individuals who have undergone difference procedures.
Individuals who had undergone chin implants, nose jobs and injectable fillers actually scored higher in their “after” photos in terms of how creative, motivated and trustworthy people considered them.
Women with the Voluma filler, which is used for fine lines and wrinkles, had the most dramatic score increases in how they were perceived by others.
But there is a limit to how much these procedures can do, said Daniel Hamermesh, economics professor emeritus at the University of Texas in Austin.
“There’s some evidence that you can look a little bit younger, but you’re not going to make a 70-year-old person into a 50-year-old person,” he said.
“You probably can do something at the margin to make small changes, but they’re small changes.
“You can make your face look younger, but you’ve got to remember that a 70-year-old person walks differently and carries himself differently than a 50-year-old person… You convey your age with much more than just your looks once you go for a job interview or you’re on the job.”
Regardless of how much of a difference it makes on other peoples’ perceptions, cosmetic changes can act as a significant confidence boost for an individual employee, said Patzer.
“People who feel that they are more attractive then internalize that and they feel more confident, they have more self-esteem, they tend to be more gregarious and outgoing and such,” he said.
“In that regard, if we can take an individual such as an older worker and increase his or her physical attractiveness, without question that then increases their appeal on two dimensions. One, other people then react to them more favourably and, in turn, they feel more confident… but they’re also getting external verification of the fact that they’re more appealing.”
This is true for any worker, for that matter — not just mature workers, he said.
“They are more likely to be slightly more bold or assertive in the workplace.”
Psychologically, it makes sense, said Shelton.
“They feel that they can present themselves better to their boss and co-workers, and they’re probably more positive.”
The economics of appearance
There’s been a fair bit of research looking at how attractiveness affects employment prospects. It’s a question Daniel Hamermesh examines in his book Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful.
“Clearly, we all like having good-looking people around — the question is why companies (might) prefer it. And the reason is very simple: Companies prefer it because you and I as customers prefer it.
“We’d rather buy from and deal with a good-looking person, and that makes the company willing to pay more money to the good-looker because that brings in more customers,” he said.
More attractive people are more likely to be employed, work more productively and receive higher pay, said Hamermesh.
The impacts or benefits of physical attractiveness are powerful, pervasive — yet often unrecognized or denied, according to Gordon Patzer, author of Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined.
Physical attractiveness impacts who gets hired, who gets promoted and how much they earn, he said.
“Generally, the more physically attractive an individual is, the more positively people perceive the person, the more favourably people respond to the person, and the more successful the person’s personal and professional lives are presumed to be.”
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