Everyone complains about the number of Zoom calls and virtual meetings that have become the norm during the COVID-9 pandemic. And while some employers will continue to have employees work at home or implement a hybrid home/office solution, many people will be returning to office life full time – if they haven’t already.
That return to the office brings several interpersonal aspects back into the fold of the average workday that simply vanished while everyone was stuck working at home.
For some, it will be fun to see colleagues in person who have only been a small face on a screen for months. And it can be nice to add that social aspect to the workday grind that may have consisted of talking to a pet or spouse for the last year plus.
But some people may be dreading their return to the office.
Having employees work from home full time was solely a technological solution to work during pandemic. But having people return to the office is a social issue.
It’s normal to be apprehensive about returning to the pressures of everyday office life and all that comes with the commute, the office politics, and the new routines – not to mention anxiety around potential for COVID-19 spread.
But for people living with obesity or overweight, those anxieties can simply add another layer on top of an already stressful situation, pandemic or not.
Weight stigma is already a problem in the medical industry, education, media and many other aspects of everyday life, and the workplace is no different.
Unfair hiring practices, lower wages compared to thinner employees (women affected by obesity earn 6% less than thinner women), harsher discipline from employers and negative stereotypes about work ethic and ambition are all common examples of ways people living with obesity face unfair treatment in the workplace.
All of these factors can have a serious impact on the psychological, social and physical health of individuals affected by obesity and overweight.
Many workplaces know about these issues and try to implement measures such as ‘weight-loss challenges’ or other competitions to try and encourage exercise and healthy habits.
However, using ‘challenges’ like this only reinforces negativity around people living with obesity by framing it as a ‘bad thing’ and lifestyle choice instead of what it really is: a chronic disease.
Battling weight stigma in the workplace should start with educating people about obesity the disease, how people are affected by it and what it means for people who live with it from a medical standpoint.
Employers should be focused on protecting employees who live with obesity and overweight by raising awareness and helping them gain access to proper treatment through benefit programs, not further stigmatizing and trivializing this disease as something people can simply eliminate if they try hard enough.
At Obesity Matters, we try to help individuals become advocates for themselves and take action to reduce these barriers and transform societal attitudes.
One of Obesity Matters’ mandates is to reduce stigma and weight bias against Canadians living with obesity and we encourage you to get involved and join us in our efforts.