Eating disorders in the office – should you say something?

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HR managers should be mindful of their employees’ mental health – but asking about someone’s stress levels is different to asking about an eating disorder – so how can you offer your support to someone you think may be suffering? HRM investigates.

“It’s important to understand that it’s actually very difficult to determine if a person has an eating disorder – you can’t tell simply by looking at somebody,” says Suzanne Phillips, program coordinator at the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC).

“I would stress caution in non-trained professionals jumping to conclusions or making their own diagnosis,” she continued.

Instead, Phillips said HR professionals should concentrate on their EAPs and ensure workers not only have the tools available to help themselves but are aware of any relevant benefits the company offers, such as counselling.

“Giving resources to people is one of the most important things an HR professional can do,” insisted Phillips. “Eating disorders are complicated issues and they need to have trained professionals dealing with them.”

HR coach Kelly Kozaris agreed: “It would be positive for the employee to know that support is available,” she said. “HR could also refer the employee to a specialist, provide flexible working conditions to assist the employee with their health and recovery and also ensure that the quality of work that the employee is doing will minimise risk of escalation of the eating disorder.”

Kozaris also said that HR managers must also be wary of health and safety. “There may be the risk that the employee’s condition deteriorates, and an incident occurs in the workplace that can put the employee at risk.”

For more advice on assisting an employee with an eating disorder, visit

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