Call Center Work

Are Employers Ready to Help with Obesity?

At long last we have some good news from employers on obesity. It’s not that they have an answer. Rather, it looks like they might be ready to go deeper than superficial “wellness or else” programs. Finally, employers are realizing that “wellness or else” has done nothing but make the problem worse.

New research published in Population Health Management tells us that employers may be ready for a fresh approach.

Wellness That Falls Short

Kimberly Jinnett and colleagues found that employers are seeing how the medical aspects of obesity intersect with work. But wellness programs fall short of meeting real needs of employees with obesity. And thus, participation and success rates are disappointing.

Worse, those programs may have perverse effects. Some of them promote stigma and discrimination. Susanne Täuber and colleagues explain in a new paper published by Frontiers in Psychology:

Together, our research identifies workplace health promotion programs as potent catalysts of weight stigma and weight-based discrimination, especially when they emphasize individual responsibility for health outcomes.

A Competitive Necessity

The cost of ignoring obesity is steep. The Milken Institute has a new estimate that pegs the total economic impact in the U.S. at $1.7 trillion. Notably, most of that is indirect costs that hit employers. For example, lost productivity, work absences, disability, and diminished competitiveness.

But until now, much of the employer response to obesity has been superficial. Wellness programs offer platitudes about living a healthy lifestyle. Meanwhile, as Täuber et al demonstrate, they might do nothing more than single out employees with obesity for discrimination.

In a recent Huffington Post article, Sarah Bramblette offers a first-hand account. She has seen employers discount the performance of larger employees. It adds up to an ineffective work culture.

Fortunately, many employers are ready to turn the page. More effective employers are focusing on the total well-being of employees. Not arbitrary health outcomes in isolation. The result can be a healthier work environment, a healthier workforce, and a competitive advantage.

Click here for the study by Jinette et al and here for the Täuber study.

Call Center Work, photograph © Alan Clark / flickr

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December 10, 2018