Health at Every Size® in the Workplace

April 29, 2019

Health at Every Size® in the Workplace

As a business, your employees are your greatest asset. Regardless of whether you have a fantastic product or service, you still need your employees to create, sell, and promote your business. Healthy employees are happier and more productive. As a result, promoting health within the workplace can be a great benefit to you. However, I see a lot of companies missing the mark when it comes to health at work.

First and foremost we need to separate health from weight. People come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and programs that encourage individuals to strive for the same body size are not only unrealistic but can be very detrimental to your workplace culture.

What is Health at Every Size (HAES)®?

According to the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), health exists on a continuum that varies over time and circumstance for each individual. Health is a resource available to all regardless of ability level or the presence of chronic or acute health concerns. The pursuit of health is not a moral nor individual obligation. An individual’s health status should NEVER be used to judge, oppress, or determine the value of an individual.

ASDAH defines five distinct HAES® Principles which you can read about in detail here. The five principles are weight inclusivity, health enhancement, respectful care, eating for well-being, and life-enhancing movement. All of these principles contribute to ending weight stigma, weight bias and inequalities in accessing health care based on body size. At the end of the day, everyone is human and we were not designed to look the same or be the same size and there is nothing wrong with that.

HAES® in the workplace

Supporting HAES® in the workplace seems like a no-brainer. How someone looks has absolutely no bearing on how they are as an employee. However, assuming that larger bodies are unhealthy or abnormal has unfortunately become a cultural norm. According to Levine and Schweitzer (2015) and Flint et al. (2016), employees living in larger bodies are less likely to be hired by a company, less likely to be assigned desirable job responsibilities, less likely to be promoted within an organization, and on average, earn less than their smaller-bodied colleagues doing the same job. So while it seems like a no-brainer, it’s clear that weight bias does exist in the workplace and in order to remove it, you first need to acknowledge and address it.

So what can you do as a business to support HAES® at work?

  • Acknowledge and address your own bias. This can be very difficult for people because we all want to believe that we’re not contributing to the problem. However, the only way to reduce bias is to acknowledge that it exists and figure out when and where it’s popping up so that you can challenge your own thinking when it does.
  • Review your hiring and promotion policy to ensure that people of all sizes are treated equally.
  • Create health policies and programs that encourage people of all sizes to participate. One way that you can do this is by creating a health committee that includes a variety of people of various shapes and sizes. If you already have a health committee, does it include people of all sizes? If not, how can you change that?
  • Review your benefits package to ensure that it provides equal access to services for all employees regardless of size and existing health concerns.
  • Avoid weight-based programs in the workplace. Programs like biggest loser competitions can create unnecessary competition and send a very loud message to your employees that a smaller body is better. Businesses run on teamwork, so the last thing you want to do is alienate employees and discourage people from speaking up and expressing ideas.
  • Promote joyful movement. Encourage people to take breaks during the day to participate in movement that they enjoy. Remember that not everyone likes the same thing, so if you offer or plan to offer reimbursement for activity, you may want to consider a general “activity fund” that could go towards a new bicycle, a pair of walking shoes, a yoga class etc. vs something more specific like a gym membership for everyone.
  • Put a stop to diet talk. Eating for well-being means different things to different people. If people feel ashamed about the food they are bringing to work, it can be very alienating. If you’re part of a conversation that includes diet talk, change the subject.

A business is the product of its employees. As such, you want the best people, regardless of their size, ethnicity, or gender. As an employer, it is amazing to value health in the workplace. Just remember that health isn’t mandatory and it's not visible. It’s so important to be inclusive, supportive, and above all else, non-judgemental.

References:

ASDAH (2019). The Health At Every Size® Approach. Retrieved from https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/content.asp?id=152

Flint, S. W., Čadek, M., Codreanu, S. C., Ivić, V., Zomer, C., & Gomoiu, A. (2016). Obesity discrimination in the recruitment process:“You’re not Hired!”. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 647.

Levine, E. E., and Schweitzer, M. E. (2015). The affective and interpersonal consequences of obesity. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 127, 66–84. doi: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2015.01.002



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