Employee obesity: How to manage workplace expectations

How can you help eradicate weight stigma?

Employee obesity: How to manage workplace expectations

If the past few months have taught leaders anything, it’s the overwhelming importance of wellbeing. Health has always been a priority for HR practitioners – be it mental, emotional, or financial.  The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on our physical health, highlighting the importance of providing supports for employees living with obesity. 

HRD spoke to Martine Carbonneau, Director, Field Patient Access at Novo Nordisk Canada Inc, who spoke about the barriers employees living with obesity face on a daily basis.

“Weight stigma and discrimination continues to be one of the biggest challenge people living with obesity face,” she told HRD. “Because of weight stigma, people living with obesity often blame themselves for their weight, which prevents them from seeking the proper care that they need. Not only that, but those who do seek care are often met with bias from healthcare professionals, which creates more barriers in terms of actually receiving appropriate treatment. From an employer perspective, while well-intentioned, short-term “Biggest Loser”-style weight loss programs can in fact perpetuate and reinforce the bias that obesity can simply be solved by ‘eating less and moving more’. This bias is further enforced in the way in which benefit plans are designed., where evidence-based treatments for obesity are often carved out from coverage as obesity is considered a ‘lifestyle’ condition.”

Read more: Back to office workers show super low morale

Living with obesity can have a detrimental impact on personal mental wellbeing – which in turn can impact morale and productivity. The economic burden of obesity in Canada was thought to be around $7.1 billion in 2006, of which $3.2 billion was due to indirect costs such as lost productivity. This financial burden is straining both the economy and individual businesses.

“However, it’s not just obesity itself that has an impact on employee health and productivity,” added Carbonneau. “You also have to consider the health conditions that are associated with obesity, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental health issues - which also have a significant impact on employee wellbeing.”

So, what’s to be done? How should HR leaders be looking to help employees living with obesity? What sorts of initiatives can employers implement now to help people in the long-term?

Read more: Hybrid vs Office: Who will win the remote work war?

“In order to avoid perpetuating misinformation and harmful stereotypes that obesity can be managed by eating less and exercising more, employers should stop running short-term weight loss challenges,” advised Carbonneau. “Instead, employers should focus their efforts on running awareness campaigns that help their employees understand the truth and science behind obesity and weight management. Employers should review their HR policies to ensure that they are explicitly protecting their employees living with obesity from discrimination and that that there is access to proven treatments, such as coverage of medications, dietitians, and exercise support professionals such as kinesiologists, through their benefit programs.  They should also encourage those living with obesity to seek proper care from health care professionals that understand how weight should be properly managed.”

To learn more about how you can help employees living with obesity today, download Novo Nordisk’s complimentary whitepaper here.

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