My Great, Big Fat Recruiting Dilemma

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Have you had an employee who had to stop working because they became too fat?

Just wait, you will; it’s just a matter of time.

I remember when my biggest nightmare as an HR pro was going to tell an employee that they need to bathe and wear deordorant. I can’t even imagine having to go tell an employee, “Hey Bro, you have to go home — you’re too fat.”

How bad the obesity problem is getting

The U.S. Army recently came out and shared some statistics about how the U.S. obesity epidemic is hurting their recruitment efforts:

Just under three in 10 young people [ages] 17 to 24 can join the Army today – and the other armed services for that matter – and the single biggest disqualifier is obesity,” Major General Allen Batschelet of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command told CNN. “Ten percent of them are obese and unfit to the point that they can’t join the service. It’s really very worrisome.”

“The obesity issue is one of the most troubling because the trend is going in the wrong direction,” says Batschelet. “Ten percent are disqualified today, and we think by 2020, it could be as high as 50 percent, which would mean only two in 10 would qualify to join the Army.”

Our national security is at risk because our citizens can’t put down a Big Mac.

Our enemies don’t need to attack us with bombs and troops; they just need to keep sending us cheap junk food to consume! Then one day they just come ashore and roll us over to the POW camps. I sure hope they serve good food at the camps …

A major issue for all employees

Big fat Americans just aren’t a national security issue; this is a major issue facing all employers. The reality is, no one wants to hire unhealthy people. If given a choice between people with similar skills and abilities, one in shape and one obese, employers will always hire the person who is in shape.

You want to see hiring discrimination at its finest? Put a minority in good shape, a woman in good shape, and an obese candidate, all with similar skills, in front of a hiring manager and have them rank them on most likely to hire.

The obese person will always rank last. Why? Your hiring managers fear hiring someone who might die on their watch more than hiring a minority or woman.

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Was that too real for you? Check your analytics; you know where your problems are.

How do we fix this?

The workplace wellness push isn’t working

Companies have failed at wellness across the board. I think it’s just a matter of time until you begin seeing organizations tie performance and compensation into their wellness plans.

It seems extreme, but so is this problem.

When a company reaches the point where they’ll tie your job performance to your health “performance,” that’s when you have an organization that truly cares about you.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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40 Comments on “My Great, Big Fat Recruiting Dilemma

  1. “When a company reaches the point where they’ll tie your job performance
    to your health “performance,” that’s when you have an organization that
    truly cares about you.” This is the biggest bs statement I’ve heard today. Companies do not care about employees – period. They certainly are not concerned about employees’ health because they care about the individuals.

    1. But what if they did care? What if you could find one that cared that much about you, that they wanted to make sure you were as healthy as you could be. Obesity is a problem that HR can longer run away from.

      1. You are making my point for me, Tim, by saying, “Obesity is a problem that HR can longer run away from.”

        HR is not there to help or protect employees. HR exist to protect the company/organization. HR getting involved in my health is not for my benefit, but the company’s benefit.

        If companies/organizations truly cared about employees, the American work force would enjoy the same rights and privileges as the rest of the First World.

        Your thinking is not valid on this issue. There are myriad health problems both physical and mental within an employee base that are not visible. What you are actually talking about is discrimination based on being able to see the health problem. The HIPPA laws are in place to help fight against health discrimination.

        Saying “what if” and think “positive intent instead of negative intent” doesn’t mean anything concrete or significant. We are all aware that employees are no longer considered human in America … instead we are “assets” or “talent” or any of a number of dehumanizing labels.

  2. My husband wakes up every morning at 5am and rides his bike on the rollers in the garage for 30 mins to “wake up” before getting ready. When he comes home he either rides for an hour on the rollers or goes on a real ride. He’s the most productive person I know.

    1. What kind of job does he have and what kind of work schedule? I am up at 3:00 am so I can be to work by 5. I must be in bed by 7:00 pm in order to get sleep. During the summer months 7:00 pm is still bright and sunny outside. How about schedules that mimic the real sleep wake cycle instead of 24/7/365??

  3. never fat-shame anybody but on the other hand, stop glorifying heavy people! (that means you, American media)

  4. Been saying it for years. You want to curb the obesity problem in your company? Hire personal trainers and nutritionists for your staff. It will cost you FAR FAR less to get people healthy than it will save you in sick time, health insurance costs, lost productivity, donuts…

    1. But not everyone who is obese is unhealthy. That is also true. And, maybe, instead of personal trainers and nutritionists, we need to let go of the efficiency of a paperless office and design the workplace so that people move more naturally. Two screens and a chair all day is not healthy, and the negative effects are not accurately countered by an hour workout.

      1. “Obese” by definition is unhealthy – it’s a disease. So everyone who is obese is unhealthy. I didn’t make up the definition, that was done by doctors and scientist.

        1. It is a simple height v weight formula, and every doctor knows that is not the full story on how healthy the weight is for a specific person. Not to mention, we aren’t talking about doctors, we are talking about interviewers, who make visual decisions that often are not in the least bit accurate.

        2. No it doesn’t mean unhealthy. How can I be unhealthy with a normal cholesterol, normal B/P, normal blood sugar, and clean arteries? It’s only unhealthy if you eat crap and never work out. I’m not fond of crap and I love working out. Yet I’m fat. Hmmm

    2. BS alert! I’m fat and I never call in sick. I see a doctor once a year for a physical. I hate donuts. I work with a couple of other fat people and they show up for work every day and they don’t have any illnesses. it’s possible to be fat and healthy. Do the research and you’ll see.

      1. This is called confirmation bias. You are selectively remembering the handful of over weight people like yourself that aren’t constantly sick and are conveniently forgetting the copious amounts of evidence that we have showing that being overweight is bad for your health in countless ways.

        Also there’s a difference between being fat and being obese. It’s hard to fathom how anyone could seriously try to argue that being obese isn’t bad for your health with all the evidence that we have showing that it is.

  5. Seriously, this is weight discrimination. I am fat. I have hardly ever needed to take a sick day. I don’t have any health issues related to weight. In fact, I am very healthy. I have only gotten colds 1 (this year) in the last at least 5. I haven’t had anything worse, either. I know a lot of fat people like this. They are assuming, because health officials list everything as due to weight (heck, once, I had a cold, went in to my doctor for a regular physical for a job, and they said my cold was due to being fat) and thereby making it appear to bosses and insurance companies about the health risks of being fat. Assuming all fat people are unhealthy is stereotyping. Many people get sick a lot or chronically regardless of their weight. In fact, in jobs I have had, it is the thin people that I see being sick more often. Stereotypes never work.

    1. Obesity isn’t a stereotype. It’s a disease. We need to help our employees who have diseases. Would you not try and help your employees if they had cancer?

      1. But businesses aren’t helping. By they only care as long as you are able to work and on their time schedule.

  6. While health is important, you can’t tell someone’s health just by looking at their size. Some of the most fit and active people I’ve known appear obese. True, the combination of fit and overweight may not be the norm but, still, it is NEVER right to generalize.

    1. I didn’t generalize. I used “Obese” because by definition that is a disease from the American Medical Association. If someone is obese that is easy to measure, their is actual measures to figure out if someone has this disease or not.

      1. How does it feel to be so uninformed and ignorant? You generalized and said that obese people are unhealthy. Maybe my thin diabetic friends are just faking it to get attention since thin people don’t get diabetes and never get sick. I feel sorry for your lack of knowledge. My grandma lived to be 105 with no diseases. She was fat.

  7. When a company reaches the point where they’ll tie your job performance to your health “performance,” that’s when you have an organization that truly cares about you.
    Uh no. And here we all thought big government was too intrusive?

    1. It’s hard not to assume the negative side of this, but I wondering what if an organization truly cared so much about you professionally and personally that they wanted to ensure you were healthy. Would that be so bad? Think positive intent, not negative.

  8. The two “skinniest” people in our office are the sickest by far. Diabetes, cancer, intestinal problems, etc. Serious illnesses don’t just affect heavy people and genetics plays a big factor in some illnesses.

    1. This isn’t an argument about skinny vs. overweight. This is about chronic obesity. Sure you’ll find skinny people who are unhealthy, but doctors, scientist and insurance companies have the data to prove that overwhelmingly obese people are far more unhealthy than people who are not obese. That’s not even what this post is about.

      1. Insurance companies don’t have data saying that fat people are unhealthy. That’s a myth that was debunked a long time ago. My sister and her husband are doctors and most of their really sick patients are not fat.

  9. I have no problem with a company wanting me to be healthy and possibly rewarding me for such, but part of the problem is companies are requiring more and more of their employees time. I am currently working upwards of 65-70 hours a week. That leaves little time or energy to work out and certainly does not contribute to my overall physical or mental health. While I am not obese, this schedule is not healthy either

    1. Exactly!! My husband has put on weight since he left grad school and started working in industry. He goes in at 7 every morning, and usually does not get home until 7 at night. He has meetings most Saturday and Sunday mornings, and he gets calls in the middle of the night to fix whatever is going wrong in the factory. With longer days, he’s able to get a quick bike ride in after work (or he was until his bicycle was stolen anyway). He feels bad that he is so tired all the time and that he has a belly now. He’s never had that before. He’s not a health nut, but he doesn’t eat fast food every day either. His diet really hasn’t changed much, but his level of stress has gone up, and his level of activity has gone down, and that has made all the difference.

  10. Two issues here. 1. Obesity is a disqualifier for our military. We are engaged in the longest war in our history… and we will run out of qualified militia. 2. There is no such thing as healthy obese. Google a study done in the American College of Cardiology. However, this does not mean they can’t make outstanding employees. I know a vascular surgeon who was an outstanding surgeon that is obese. ( I am a physician). However, the cost of employer sponsored health insurance continues to climb ( 157% in the last 10 yrs). Insuring more obese and sicker people won’t help bend that curve ( I realize other variables contribute to skyrocketing insurance premiums). Employers who shoulder the major burden of employer sponsored health insurance are quaking in their boots as obesity and smoking are comprising the lion’s share of health care utilization. ( Remember, obesity contributes to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, higher risk of many cancers etc… not that thin people can’t get these diseases but obesity is playing a huge role)

  11. Tim Sackett, the level of anger you project toward individuals who are obese is remarkable. An employer who cares about their employees does not look first toward how much an employee weighs, but rather looks towards the conditions that make a healthy lifestyle. Walking meetings, healthy choices in the snack machines, a culture where seeing people face-to-face instead of sending an email all contribute toward a healthy population. Show me an overweight candidate and a candidate who is a smoker, and I’ll select the fat one every time. Show me a candidate with bad teeth and a fat candidate and I’ll select the fat one every time. Show me a candidate who looks ill and a candidate who is fat and I’ll pick the fat one.

    Show me a supposed HR professional who spouts the BS you do, and a fat HR professional and I’ll take the fat one, thank you.

      1. People are fat for the simply fact that they consume far more calories than the expend and don’t know how to (or simply won’t) address their diet and lack of exercise.

        1. My husband’s diet hasn’t changed since grad school, but he has put on weight. Now that he has a job in industry, he is working 80 hours per week and doesn’t have time to work out anymore. Guess he should just starve himself then, huh?

          1. When I was working 80 hours a week I lost weight (despite working in a fast food restaurant), or course I was 18 then. As you get older if you don’t work out your metabolism slows down and if your caloric intake remains the same you’ll gain weight.

          1. While there’s more to it than simply calories in vs. calories out (such as the type and quality of the food you’re eating) at the end of the day if you are taking more calories than you burn you will gain weight. If you are taking in less you will lose weight.

            There’s tons of guys who lift weights who complain that they can’t gain any muscle. All too often if you look at what they are eating the simply aren’t taking in enough food to build any appreciable muscle.

            There’s also many people who say that they are working out yet aren’t seeing any weight loss. Ask them how much they are eating and they’ll tell you “I don’t eat very much, maybe 1,500 calories a day or less.” And then when you ask them to actually track how many calories that are actually eating it usually ends up being in excess of 3,000 a day.

  12. How about work schedules that don’t kill your employees? How about stress management in the workplace? How about nutritious foods that you can get and eat on a 15 min. break? we work 24/7/365 and according to our employers it still isn’t good enough. My day starts at 3:00 am and many others work over nights- no these aren’t our choice, this is what employers demand. My brother works 70+ hours a week and they wonder why he doesn’t do the yoga class on his lunch. Make our parks and walking places safe for a woman to walk alone…(Bodies keep turning up in parks around me *shiver*) There is more to this problem than weight alone.

  13. Look, instead of attacking the guy who wrote this, face facts, there is a massive amount of data linking obesity to numerous diseases and obesity related issues do indeed cost businesses a lot of lost revenue each year and, ultimately, that is all a business cares about, their bottom line. So if I need to get fit and stay fit to get and keep a job, so be it. I do hope that businesses start to invest in the physical fitness/health of their employees with free gym memberships and time to utilize those memberships, nutritional counseling, healthy cooking classes, incentives to get fit and stay fit, etc. It would be a win-win for employee and employer.

  14. When a company reaches the point where they’ll tie your job performance
    to your health “–that’s when they are waayy too much into your private life. And what do you want to bet the overweight boss with the gut hanging over his belt is exempt?

  15. Tim, your professional career and credibility as an HR is at risk if you lean to this direction, this is discrimination against overweight people. I hope one of your overweight employees see this and comment on it. Moreover, military physical requirement is a whole different issue than hiring an employee for a position that doesn’t require physical fitness. BTY, I am vegetarian and organic consumer, I exercise at least twice a week, yet overweight with no health issues at all.
    Question, is obesity considered a disability?

  16. During our grade school years, the mean kids would make fun, tease and call their obese classmates names. We should have grown out of this childish, shameful behavior, however, it continues as adults by calling obese people, fat – a very degrading term. HR people should know better. Reverting to name calling or shaming is not acceptable, especially in a professional work environment. I agree, obesity is a health concern. It is also a sensationalized, attention-getting media story. People like to see how much thinner they are than those obese people on TV. It makes us feel better about our thin selves. In reality, there are a number of potential medical factors that can lead to gaining weight – depression, anxiety, PTSD, certain medications, etc. The human condition remains the same, discrimination continues to exist. Obesity discrimination is simply the latest recruiting strategy. Hiring and retaining only thin employees is an advantageous self-serving corporate marketing strategy.

  17. From a business standpoint, it makes sense. If a job applicant doesn’t fit the corporate image of a business, he/she won’t be hired. People need to be energetic and dynamic. Interviewers don’t know who or what we are and can only gauge by appearance. Who can blame them?

    It isn’t about size; it’s about radiating health and energy. If Serena Williams and Tess Munster apply for a corporate job, chances are Serena will be hired.

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