Eating Disorder Awareness - What Employers Need to Know
This week is the UK's Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and the 2016 focus is on employers and how to support staff with an eating disorder. Here are a few tips for managers and employers who are - or suspect they may be - managing someone with an eating disorder.
We want to hear what you have to say: have you suffered from an eating disorder and has your employer dealt with it really well? How would you like to be treated if you were suffering? How have you found it managing someone who had this illness?
Tag @denvertronix and #EDAWtips to join the conversation.
#1 - Spotting the signs
Eating disorders may still affect more women than men, but ED within males is on the rise, so don't dismiss concerns just because they are about a male in your team. ED sufferers tend to be pretty secretive about their habits: you may notice changes in behaviour such as avoiding lunch or meals out with the team, or an increase in physical activity. You may notice they look tired or their weight or style of dress has changed. You may find them to be touchy about particular foods or drinks - for example only drinking diet coke or black coffee - and overreacting if their preference isn't available (I used to freak out if hotels didn't have skimmed milk, for example. I would actually eat cereal with water if this was the case). You may also notice red knuckles on one (usually their dominant) hand - this is often a sign of bulimia nervosa.
#2 - Tackling the problem
If you suspect someone in your team is suffering from an eating disorder, it should never be ignored. If you have a good relationship with the employee, you should approach them in a quiet setting and begin with open-ended questions such as 'is everything okay?' to try and get them talking. If they don't open up, mention the changes you have noticed in them and make it clear that you are concerned and want to support them. Remember that an eating disorder is not a phase or a choice: it is an illness that needs careful handling and a show of understanding.
#3 - Referrals to external support services
If you are in a large organisation, it is likely there will be counselling or support available through an Employee Assistance service. There are also national organisations such as b-eat who have lots of resources for sufferers, carers and employers. Fit Missions also offers a remote support service to individuals or consultancy to companies on handling eating disorders. If you believe the individual to be at immediate risk - either to him or herself or someone else - you are likely to be required by company policy to report it. Please refer to your company handbook or manager for more information on this.
#4 - Dealing with colleagues' reactions
Genuine eating disorders are never an attempt to attention-seek. They may occur at an already traumatic time, and are usually a desperate attempt at a coping strategy and desire for control over at least one element of life. Therefore it is best not to share news of your employee's illness without prior consent or unless absolutely necessary. If concerns are brought to you by other employees, the best response is usually a brief thank you and confirmation that their concerns are being dealt with, without going into huge amounts of detail.
#5 - Surely joking with them and laughing it off would make it better?
Wouldn't it be great if you could make light of the whole thing and it would magically disappear? Sadly this just doesn't happen: jokes alluding to weight or eating habits are unlikely to be helpful, even if they are seemingly complimentary. Be patient without indulging in depressive conversations; show support and, encourage them to find the root cause of their ED, which often causes a crippling lack of self-esteem. Only by tackling this can the sufferer beat his or her eating disorder and begin to rebuild a healthy relationship with mind and body. It is doable, and patience, understanding, and determination are key traits to help aid that recovery.
You can receive the first part of the Eating Disorder Recovery Support Guide free of charge by completing the form below - alternatively please email firstname.lastname@example.org for tailored support. You can read more about the guide on my previous blog post.