New f-word is rude awakening for HR

The fact we have devoted this week’s issue to workplace health is an indication that if you’re not working on the wellbeing of your employees, then you should be.

HR departments looking to put a business case together for improving their employees’ health will find plenty of facts and figures in this issue to back it up. There is such a compelling case for having a workplace health strategy – reduced absence, increased productivity, cost savings – that prioritising employee health can only have a positive impact on current and future performance.

But lurking behind these healthy, feel-good initiatives is a much more sinister story. A survey of more than 2,000 Personnel Today readers reveals there is discrimination against obese people in the workplace.

While HR is usually the first to be politically correct, an astonishing 93% of people in our survey admitted that, given the choice between two candidates of equal capabilities, they would go for a ‘normal weight’ person instead of an obese person. Not only that, if an obese person actually manages to get a job, they are less likely to be promoted or given a client-facing role, and will be high on the list when the company has to make redundancies.

Even worse is the fact that ‘fat’ issues are not even discussed in 69% of organisations, despite the fact that 47% of respondents think obesity has a negative impact on employee output.

Our figures suggest that ‘fat’ has become the new ‘f-word’, that it has become a taboo subject, and that fattism is rife in UK organisations.

There isn’t the same legal protection for obesity as there is for other kinds of workplace discrimination, so there hasn’t been the pressure for HR to put policies in place. But with these ingrained attitudes in the workplace, how long can it be before an obese employee brings a successful claim for discrimination?

We hope these figures serve as an uncomfortable wake-up call that prompts HR to shine a light into this hidden corner of workplace discrimination.

By Karen Dempsey, editor

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