If your office celebrates every birthday with a cake, or has regular bake-offs, be warned: you might be causing harm to a food addict in your midst.
This less talked-about addiction is very real – and HR should understand it’s much different to having a weekend binge on snacks, says Dr Vera Tarman of addiction treatment service Renascent
“If they’re a food addict, they’re basically eating processed foods that are very mood-altering on a regular basis,” she tells HRD.
“What happens is that a person’s mental status is somewhat impaired, and their ability to moderate their emotions – like irritability or lack of patience – is also impaired.”
That can mean a big hit to workplace performance and productivity, with the individual’s cognitive skills and ability to work in a team impacted.
“Like any other addiction, if the person has their focus somewhere else, they’re going to be distracted by cravings and urges, so that might mean that their attention isn’t fully on the job, because they’re thinking about wanting to eat something or just feeling really bad because they’re feeling sick. It’s a lack of control.”
Tarman says it’s very important that HR and employers treat food addiction with the seriousness that it deserves, like any other addiction.
That means being aware of the role food plays in your workplace, and how this might affect staff.
“Having cake for every birthday, if the person is trying to manage themselves, putting the trigger in their face on a constant basis, encouraging it, is a real problem. The whole idea of having candy when you walk by someone’s desk, there’s a consistent trigger,” Tarman says.
As a starting point, she suggests keeping any special occasion treats outside of your main office space.
“At the very least, could they have it in a separate room so that it’s not the first thing that you walk into. If you do want celebrate in that way, say ‘in the other room is a cake, can we keep it there?’,” she suggests.
“HR can support them by discouraging that permissibility and normalization of this … If we didn’t encourage it so much, that would make a big difference.”
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