How to create a body positive work environment?

indiscrimination at the workplace

People with not the right body weight or image can suffer from indiscrimination at the workplace and anywhere else. What body image has to do with professional skills and efficiency? Nobody has a definite explanation. It is presumed these people lack self-motivation to be efficient employees and therefore cannot deliver as expected.

A study by the UK-based legal academics found overweight women on an average earn $9000 less than women of normal weight. This can be lesser to the extent of $19000 for obese women.

Over 50% of Americans do not have any qualm regarding putting negative comments about a person’s appearance at the workplace reports Psychology today. Whether to accept it or not, many workplaces seriously lack a body positive work environment and the female talent bears the brunt of it.

Body shaming and its effects on the female workforce:

Mocked for making healthy eating choices Women at the workplace are subjected to body shaming like:

  • Always under a pressure to eat healthily and look healthy even if she is not that oddly shaped.
  • Always being mocked if an overweight woman opts for dieting
  • Mocked for the baby bulge during pregnancy
  • Mocked for making healthy eating choices in spite of being skinny
  • Limited options to workplace outfits.
  • Being coerced to wear covered outfits
  • Constantly hearing remarks of appearance
  • Shamed for hair and clothing style

To overcome this psychological battle, women suffer from eating disorders, over exercise or take other drastic steps detrimental to their physical and mental health. They suffer from mood swings, depression and emotional outbursts which may earn them a tag of being unfriendly and non-cooperative at the workplace. Their career suffers in the long run. 

The emergence of BoPo movement:

A trend has emerged in the Social Media known as “Body Positivity” challenging the narrow views and ideas related to female beauty.  It is encouraging and accepting women of any size, color and image.

A search for #bodypositive and #effyourbodystandards generates millions and millions of posts. Few BoPo accounts on social media have millions of followers. An analysis of the social media content related to BoPo movement shows:

  • Women selfies displaying rolled bellies and cellulite with pride.
  • Pictures with the caption before and after spreading the awareness what Instagram and Photoshop can do to the real image. Photoshop is not necessary to conceal the real image. Show up as you are.
  • Focusing on functionality of the body parts rather than its appearance 

Are women feeling better?

 higher level of satisfaction with their figureThe answer is yes.  In a new study with women of age groups 18-30 who viewed body positive or appearance-neutral content reported improved mood and better self-assessment.  They experienced a higher level of satisfaction with their figure and learned to appreciate its unique functions rather than focusing solely on its shape and size.

From the other perspective, body positive content may drive women to focus more on physical appearance over other important aspects. 

How to create a body positive work environment?

Modern corporate world is getting enamored with the latest workplace wellness tools but does it care at all for a body positive environment? Body shaming or body talk creates tremendous pressure on women’s psyche pulling down their self-confidence and productivity.

A good corporate wellness program should focus on employee wellbeing which is not a mere number on the scale.  It should maintain a body positive intent. Not all overweight people would like to do yoga at the office. Not all of them suffer from health issues and make work suffer. Employee wellness targets need to be set at the right perspective without adding any burden.

Maintaining good health should be an aspiration and not generated from authoritative regulations. This upsets the wellness balance. If an employee is under constant fear that incentives would be counted on the basis of body image or appearance, the motivation to work slumps. The organization suffers.

1. Taking care of mental wellness:

employee irrespective of hisher appearance should be allowed to work without additional mental pressure Corporate wellness programs need to adopt a holistic approach covering all aspects of wellness.  People working in an organization should be kept engaged and productive. Any judgmental remarks related to body image should be shunned. An employee irrespective of his/her appearance should be allowed to work without additional mental pressure related to body image.

2. Is your employee really sick?

Often wrong perceptions breed a negative culture of body image. One should have a clear view of the employee health status before assigning any health program. If there is a genetic predisposition or other underlying medical issues, one cannot do much to improve the body weight. Things should be viewed from different angles.

3. Adopt persuasion not coercion:

Nobody intentionally wants to be overweightNobody intentionally wants to be overweight. Persuading employees towards maintaining a healthy body is a good initiative but that should not turn into coercion. An employee may have some inherent issues which are preventing him/her to get the desired benchmark of body weight. Without delving into the underlying causes, it would be totally unfair to push an employee to achieve an unrealistic goal. This certainly does not support a body positive work environment.

4. Offering opportunities not incentives:

Many employers offer incentive-based insurance programs where an employee has to pay a low premium for aligning with a certain set of physical parameters. This may keep some employees motivated to remain healthy but can initiate discrimination at the office as well. For an obese employee, it may not be possible to achieve the desired mark. A high premium amounts to a penalty for being overweight.

Instead of fixing a generalized health goal for employees, everybody should be empowered to schedule their own health goals suiting their preexisting conditions. Extend support to employees for healthcare they want.

Some may prefer boot camp membership; some may need wellness resources while some may ask for gym memberships. Supporting employees in their own way of reaching health goals is conducive in creating a body positive work environment.

5. Build a safe and positive workspace:

support group At the office, an employee’s worth should be measured on what they contribute rather than how they look. They should not be looked down upon or constantly pinched with caustic remarks.  For a body positive work environment to thrive, it is important to nurture a support group where each and every employee can open up regarding their wellness targets.

Keeping away the body talk from entering into the professional zone would automatically eradicate discrimination at office owing to body and self-image issues.

6. Create opportunities for balanced nutrition:

Serving healthy snacks and lunch has been integrated with corporate wellness programs but that should not be directed towards a specific category of overweight or underweight employees.

To address their nutrition requirements, there should be a personalized approach. Guiding them with proper counseling helps. The employee should not feel that he/she is singled out but would appreciate the organization’s intention. 

Body positive work environment portrays a healthy organizational culture:

healthy organizational cultureHealth not body should matter in the workplace. Therefore, the term body positive work environment should not arise given the condition of following equality for all. Body negative workplace does not support fairness. It is a blemish for any organization. The organization will fail to attract the best talent.

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