• World

This Is Why Your Co-Workers Judge You

3 minute read

Lots of people today look to performance- or appearance-enhancing substances to get an edge in the workplace. This could backfire if others find out.

Whether your boost of choice is a double shot of espresso before a big meeting, medicine prescribed for ADHD or anxiety that helps you navigate the workday or a few shots of something to fix crow’s feet or bags under your eyes, your co-workers probably will judge you if they know about it, even if they’re getting a little “help” themselves.

We’ve got a massive double standard going on, according to a research paper forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research. In our minds, we think any “help” we get just enhances our natural abilities, but we think anybody else using the same substances is somehow cheating or gaming the system.

“Competitive contexts, like the job market, are likely to exacerbate these double standards,” says the paper’s lead author, Elanor Williams, a postdoctoral scholar in marketing at the University of California, San Diego. “If someone else were to get ahead of you when it seems like their sole advantage was that they were younger, that would feel deeply unfair, especially if you believe you have the potential to seem just as youthful, thanks to a simple serum or injection.”

The difference is that when we look at ourselves, we see all the potential achievements we could accomplish, but when we look at other people, we judge them more harshly because we evaluate them only on what they’ve already done, explains Williams’ co-author, Mary Steffel, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati.

“Other people may see these interventions as endowing them with features they should not have, as being unfair,” Steffel says. “As these technologies are advancing and these products are becoming more accessible, it’s really important to think about how the use of these products is going to be perceived by other people.”

That’s especially true at work. “It becomes a very interesting question as it enters the workplace” Steffel says. “Somebody who uses a performance enhancing product to compete in the workplace and others catch wind of that, others might look at that as evidence that the person wasn’t capable of achieving that on their own, that they were maybe unfairly promoted or rewarded for something that was not their own accomplishment.”

This double standard comes as a growing number of us are looking for some way to gain an edge in our lives. A recent New York Times article says there has been a 53% increase in the number of adults taking ADHD medications between 2008 and 2012. And according to the most recent data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the number of Botox procedures performed last year crept up 3% from last year and a staggering 703% since 2000. The number of “soft fillers” — collagen, Restylane and the like — increased by 13% in just a year.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com