The Role Of Employers In Keeping Employees With Eating Disorders Safe In The Workplace
The prevalence of eating disorders in the US is rising, with 1 in 5 female and 1 in 7 male individuals having an eating disorder by the time they are 40 years old, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This is significant for employers, who must add eating disorders to their considerations when it comes to employee health and safety in the workplace. Like most illnesses, eating disorders can affect employees in the workplace, causing a significant drop in their productivity levels as well as serious long-term physical and mental health problems, especially when they go undiagnosed or untreated. As such, employers and HR departments must consider eating disorders as a serious health and safety risk for employees and take the necessary measures to address them.
Learning about eating disorders
If you don’t know much about eating disorders, a good starting point would be educating yourself about them so that you can be in a position to understand and help employees dealing with them. Learn about the different types of eating disorders – bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder – while making sure to understand the differences between each of them. It’s also a good idea to know the signs that may indicate that an employee has an eating disorder. Some of the common signs to look out for include excessive weight gain or weight loss, difficulty concentrating at work, taking a lot of time off, withdrawing from others, and displaying signs of depression or self-doubt. The employee may also display unusual eating habits such as having unusual portion sizes, skipping meals, or developing ritualistic habits about food preparation and consumption.
Taking precautionary measures for eating disorders
While there’s not much you can do to prevent your employees from developing eating disorders, there are various precautions you can take at the workplace to minimize the chances of an employee’s eating disorder being work-related. First of all, you can maintain a healthy working environment that keeps employees happy and minimizes their stress, which is one of the factors that has been proven to exacerbate eating disorders. Encouraging eating disorder screenings can also improve employee well-being and ensure that those who need help get it as early as possible. It’s also important for employers to take measures to secure their business in case an employee develops an eating disorder. Some eating disorders may be traced back to work-related factors such as stress, raising questions about whether or not the business is liable. As such, employers must ensure that they have workers’ compensation insurance to cover the business if an employee has a work-related eating disorder or any other health risk that presents itself in the workplace.
Helping an employee with an eating disorder
If you suspect that an employee has an eating disorder, the first thing you can do to help them is having a private discussion about it in a safe and comfortable place free from distractions. Keep in mind that there’s a good chance that the employee will deny it due to the fear of being judged or reprimanded. As such, try to approach the conversation in a considerate, empathetic, non-threatening, and non-accusatory manner, while respecting their privacy and letting them know that you’re concerned about their welfare. However, do not assume a counselor’s role; know your limits and refer the employee to a medical provider when appropriate. During the treatment and recovery process, you can make various workplace modifications for the employee, including giving them adequate time off, being open to flexible scheduling and allowing them to telecommute from time to time.
As an employer, you have a key role to play in helping employees with eating disorders deal with the problem. Since you know your team best, you are in a good position to conduct early interventions for any employees you think could have an eating disorder, helping them to seek treatment so that they can quickly regain their position as productive employees.