Employers are increasingly concerned about obesity in the workplace and its associated price tag. According to The Conference Board a nonprofit business membership and research organization, obese employees cost U.S. private companies an estimated $45 billion annually in medical expenditures and work loss. What are obese employees costing your organization?
What’s more, between 1997 and 2004, obese workers filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims, had seven times the medical costs and lost 13 times the days of work from work injury or illness compared to other employees. The average medical claims costs per 100 employees amounted to $51,019 for the obese, compared with $7,503 for normal weight employees. (Duke University Medical Center study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 2007)
We know what overweight and obesity costs the employer—but what does it cost the employee? The question here is: As an employee, is your weight holding back your career?
“This is not something on the margins,” says Mark Roehling, Michigan State University associate professor of human resources management. “At the obesity level and higher, we have every reason to believe (discrimination) is having a very significant impact on people.”
Weight-based discrimination consistently affects every aspect of employment, from hiring to firing, promotions, pay allocation, career counseling and discipline, according to Roehling’s work.
It’s during the hiring process that the bias appears to be most prominent, when an employer knows a potential employee the least, and therefore is most likely to be influenced by stereotypes, says Cort Rudolph, a Wayne State University researcher.
The bulk of research has also shown that the bias tends to be felt most by overweight white women who are battling both the glass ceiling and the stigma of being heavy. A 2004 study by Cornell University Associate Professor John Cawley found that when the average white woman puts on an additional 64 pounds, her wages drop 9 percent. And in 2004, Charles Baum, of Middle Tennessee State University, also reported in the journal Health Economics that obesity could lower a woman’s annual earnings by as much as 6.2 percent and a man’s by as much as 2.3 percent.
We have to believe (and being in the wellness business, we do believe) that workplace wellness works on more than one level. And, a successful employee wellness program benefits not only the employer and the organization, but based on the above statistics, provides financial benefits even beyond individual long term health and wellness for employees as well.