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To coincide with Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2019 (25th February - 3rd March), it is important for employers to be made aware of the ways in which they can support an employee suffering with an eating disorder.
Due to the many stresses and strains imposed upon us by society, eating disorders continue to be an extremely prevalent issue, affecting more than an estimated 1.25 million people in the UK alone.
As a complex and in some cases debilitating psychological condition, eating disorders have a serious impact upon an individual’s emotional and physical wellbeing. As an employer, understanding how to support an employee with an eating disorder, and at what point, if any, they should intervene can bring with it a unique set of challenges that should be approached in a sensitive manner.
A common misconception surrounding people with eating disorders, is that it will seriously impede their ability to perform and excel within their job. This isn’t necessarily the case, as on the whole, employees with an eating disorder will make a conscious effort to avoid their disorder from being noticed and therefore, it is unusual for their eating disorder to effect the quality of their work or be an issue for their colleagues.
In accordance with any other employee, those who may be suffering with an eating disorder want to feel valued, respected and accepted as a member of the team.
It is important to note that an eating disorder is not an extreme lifestyle choice such as a dieting tactic, but a mental illness with various physical and emotional health effects. Individuals who suffer with these illnesses may benefit from being given clear guidelines as to what is expected of them in their role, in addition to receiving regular managerial feedback and support.
Due to the effects that eating disorders can have on an employee’s wellbeing at work, employers should fulfil their duty of care by making reasonable adjustments to make their work life more manageable.
Where eating disabilities are concerned, reasonable adjustments may include longer lunch breaks if the employee eats at a slower place; removing a requirement to attend work lunches; or allowing the employee time off during peak working hours to attend medical appointments relating to the disorder.
The aim of the adjustment is to remove the barrier that the disorder presents to the employee in carrying out their role effectively.
The relationship between the employer and employee should remain professional at all times, which means managers should avoid trying to counsel an employee and assuming diagnosis.
Instead, employers should provide all employees with access to free resources, which they can utilise to seek guidance and support for both physical and mental health related issues. UK eating disorder charity Beat have several helplines that are tailor-made to deal with any issues surrounding eating disorders.
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