A recent study found that those who are overweight have bigger problems getting employed, because they are thought of as lazy and ill more often. A case of discrimination or is there some factual basis for this?
Sorry, You Don’t Fit
If you apply for the position of a fitness coach, being overweight surely is a hindrance, but what about a job as an accountant, lawyer or data analyst? Surely your girth doesn’t affect how you crunch numbers or handle a case.
Well, personnel managers might think so, at least according to a study recently published by the Monash University of Australia. In it, researchers took before and after pictures of six women who underwent bariatric surgery and had a body mass index of 38 – 41 before and 22 – 24 afterwards (25+ = overweight, 30+ = obese). The pictures of each woman were put on fake, neutral CVs that only differed in the fact that on one picture she was obese and slim on the other. Finally, 102 people were asked to judge those women’s career chances, how well they thought these women would handle an executive position, if they would employ them and what salary they thought would be appropriate.
Fat chance, if you allow the pun, for the overweight ladies: their obese versions were judged worse than their slim versions across all criteria. Interesting is also that the better those 102 people judged their own attractiveness, the worse their judgment of these obese women was.
But do overweight and obese people really do worse at their jobs, as the study’s participants believe? Is that a prejudice or not? Numerous websites and campaigns run rampant about this, as they perceive it as a gross injustice to those on the plus size of things. One apparently overweight blogger writes:
It is no secret that there is discrimination in the work place. I have been turned down for jobs because of my weight. Of course, employers never come out and say this. However, asking “Do you really think you can handle this job physically?” to someone who is 300+ pounds definitely sounds fishy. This is especially true when you add in the fact that I was flat out told at the end of my interview that I wasn’t the right fit for the job. (…) That is incredibly sad to me. Being overweight doesn’t mean you aren’t a good worker.
Hearing this from an individual who is personally involved in the situation is understandable. But how does giving overweight people a job really work out for those employing them? Unfortunately, a look through the available literature shows a rather dire perspective.
Obese People Are Less Productive
A large Belgian study, for example, found that obese persons had high annual sick-leave incidences and longer spells of sick absences. A US study found that “substantial absenteeism costs” are connected to obesity and morbid obesity. Finally, a meta-analysis of a huge number of published articles came to much the same conclusions.
Yet overweight or obese people are not more stupid. Generalizing a problem with eating habits to all aspects of an individual’s personality is just foolish. The only difference between being overweight and other personal weaknesses, say, social phobias or allergies, is that being overweight is more apparent.
But there is no way around acknowledging that employing an obese person is less effective, as he or she is likely to be absent more often than others.
Picture courtesy of Highways Agency.