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Sensitively Approaching Individuals with Suspected Eating Disorders in the Workplace

Posted in Psicon's Occupational Health Services

An article in this months Occupational Health journal by Nicola Davies provides useful advice on how HR, line managers and OH practitioners can sensitively approach individuals with suspected eating disorders in the workplace.


It is estimated that more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence estimates around 11% of those affected by an eating disorder are male.


Of course an eating disorder will effect an individual’s productivity at work, but of greater concern is the mental health of the employee.


The article emphasises that individuals with eating disorders often feel very alone and that rejection of others is often a defence. Therefore, one of the best ways to help someone who has an eating disorder is not to avoid the person but to reach out to them.


Within a work context, the importance of addressing the person and not their condition is emphasised. If it becomes obvious that the employee has health problems that are impacting their functioning at work, for example they are fainting, taking excessive bathroom breaks or their work performance has reduced then a conversation should be initiated, ideally by someone from HR, if not then a senior manager. In this instance, the fowling guidelines should be followed:


  1. The employee should be spoken to in private
  2. Any conversation surrounding concerns should be related to the individuals work performance and not concerned with an attempt to diagnose or label the individuals problem
  3. Ensure the employee has an opportunity to address the concerns that are raised and offer them support
  4. HR, line managers and OH practitioners should also seek guidance form legal and health professionals as well as consulting relevant safety at work regulations



Nicola concludes the article by commenting that ‘In time, with sufficient support- including in the workplace- individuals can usually start to envision a new, healthy perspective and regain their position as a productive, valued employee.’


Read the full article here