Work & Wellbeing

How should employers tackle eating disorders in the office?

7 min read

17 May 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

Mental health is at the forefront of people’s minds right now. But within this discussion, are we giving eating disorders the time they deserve?

Why are we all discussing mental health in the workplace so frequently? Because we all spent the majority of time at work. So, it’s imperative that employers create a pleasant ecosystem for their employees so that they remain loyal, productive and engaged with making the company profitable. But there are some mental health issues that are more closely guarded by individuals at work, one of them is eating disorders.

We sit down with Dr Nick Taylor, CEO, and Co-founder of mental health platform, Unmind and Vicki Pope, Senior Client Success Manager, who herself has battled an eating disorder, to find out what employers can do to better manage this most sensitive of workplace situations…

Real Business, (RB): What is your business doing to support mental health initiatives in the workplace?

Unmind’s Dr Nick Taylor is sensitive to mental health issues. Source: businesscloud

Nick Taylor, (NT): Unmind provides a positive, proactive solution that enables employers to improve their mind, assess their own mental wellbeing, or find support in times of need. Our platform also enables organisations, by aggregating and anonymising their employee mental health data, to create mental health strategies that are most appropriate for their people in a truly data-led way.

The platform offers bite-sized exercises for everyday wellbeing, including personalised assessments and customised programmes to help improve on specific areas such as stress, focus, and sleep.

RB: Do you think that business owners, CEOs and senior staff receive enough training from HR departments about how to support employees with eating disorders?

Viki Pope has battled an eating disorder in the past. Source: Unmind

Viki Pope, (VP): At Unmind we are quite literate in the world of mental health, so there is an open and supportive framework in which people who are facing challenges are able to discuss their situation should they feel they want to.

I only have my own lived experiences of having an eating disorder. I think that should I recognise the behaviours in others here at Unmind I would feel positive about reaching out to that person.

Don’t assume anything, simply reach out and offer your support. This could simply be to offer them an ear but could be with support services and resources.

In a leadership role it could be important to consider that this person could shut down if you are too full on, it is better to let them know that there is a safe space for them to speak out and that you are there to provide support should they need it.

If your company is in the position to provide access to counselling, CBT or similar then it should be something that you let that individual know about.

You should make it clear that them getting help or opening up about their issues will be greeted without judgment and will have no impact on their professional standing. You want to see them thrive.

RB: How do you stimulate positive discussions about mental health in your own business?

NT: Each of us has unique mental health that changes from day to day, week to week and month to month and no two of us have exactly the same mental health.

We are lucky at Unmind to be a mental health company with clinicians in leadership roles. We, therefore, feel empowered to act positively to a wide range of mental health experiences.

We try hard to create a culture where it is ok to talk about mental health, a number of our leaders have spoken publicly about their own experiences with mental health problems (which is important for normalising the conversation), we also have mental health training sessions, including access to the Unmind platform and practice optional daily wellbeing exercises.

RB: Is eating your work meals at your desk healthy?

VP: Every person with an eating disorder is different. However, a common trait is that eating in public can be extremely challenging. Eating at your desk can be an easy way to hide what you are eating or to make sure that you isolate yourself from attention around the food – or to not eat at all.

If you can, it might be useful to offer multiple breakout spaces for people who feel stressed by eating in public to find a quiet space. Additionally, if you keep encouraging everyone to take a break at lunchtime, then it may help to eventually take away the shame of eating in that group or shared space for that individual.

RB: What 3 things would you like to improve on internally where support around employees with eating disorders is concerned?

Take the pressure of obligation off your employees who are battling eating disorders.

VP: I am lucky to work in a place where I feel supported in my challenges, however, there are some key actions that I would recommend to any employer:

Another part of my experience is an unhealthy obsession or focus on exercise and activity, so when organising these, be mindful of how it is framed. Don’t draw focus on someone you suspect might be facing this particular kind of challenge – people who have an eating disorder do need support and help but making them the centre of attention or feeling closed in can make them clam up.

Instead, choose a suitable time to bring this up with the individual and offer them access to resources. Provide places where people can eat quietly on their own without judgment.