Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place this week (13th to 19th May), and the theme for 2019 is body image with the hashtag #bebodykind – how we think and feel about our bodies. What can you do as an employer to encourage positive body image?

Body image affects us all, at any age, but for many of us, our body is the source of shame and distress – we are bombarded from an early age with images that define what an ideal body looks like, and have an internalised sense of what we “should” look like.

The Mental Health Foundation found last year that 30% of all adults have felt so stressed by body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope – that’s almost one in every three people.

Poor body image is an issue that many of us struggle with – so it’s safe to assume that most of, if not all your employees, will be affected or have been affected by this at some point.

Feeling badly about the way we look can be a devastating blow to our overall self-confidence, affecting multiple aspects of our lives.  This has a profound impact on our physical and mental health. The more comfortable we are with our bodies, the greater our overall wellbeing, and the less likely we are to engage in destructive behaviours.

The way employees think, feel, and behave can impact everything from productivity and communication to their ability to do their job. Promoting good mental health and body image in the workplace could be one of the most important steps you could take to improve your organisation.

The way employees think and fell about their bodies will also have a significant impact on their behaviour and the choices they make at work.

So, what can you do as an employer to help your employees develop a positive body image?

Our body images will be affected by a range of factors – the choices we make, our lifestyle, social media… As an employer, you can help employees live a healthier lifestyle and develop a more positive body image by taking steps to change the culture in your workplace.

Challenge perceptions

Our first assessment of people is based on how they look. No matter how you look, there will be a brand of body shaming to fit your type, and we can be cruel – both to ourselves, and to others, which is why it’s important to re-frame the way we view, think and talk about our bodies.

Whenever possible, encourage positive conversations around body image. It’s also worth keeping an eye on office banter and taking action if you encounter teasing which could be unkind and unhelpful, leading to negative self-perception.

Change behaviours

You could start off by providing free fruit in the office as an alternative to unhealthy snacks, encouraging employees to have a walking break during the day, organise yoga or pilates class at lunch or offer a discounted gym membership. You could also host social sport activity days or regular events focused on health, wellbeing and nutrition.

Avoid conversations about appearance

Whenever someone starts to talk about the way they look in a disparaging way, try and deflect this and focus on how they are feeling. Have they been sleeping well? Have they been feeling fitter and stronger since they started exercising? How are their energy levels? Getting caught up in a conversation about the way someone else looks, whether they have put on weight and so on, inevitably leads to thoughts on our own appearance. Which can be unhelpful if we’re trying to feel better about ourselves. Also take action if you are aware of negative conversations going on with regards to looks and appearance.

Encourage regular exercise

Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and look and feel better.  Exercising doesn’t just mean doing sport or going to the gym. Experts say that most people should do about 30 minutes’ exercise at least five days a week. Try to make physical activity a part of your employees working day and encourage this whenever possible.

Encourage healthy eating

It’s often hard to keep up a health eating pattern at work – in busy and stressful environments, employees will be more likely to reach for sugary snacks and not take a lunch break. Encourage your employees to plan for mealtimes at work by bringing food from home and choosing healthy options when buying lunch.

Lead by example

As an employer, it’s also important that you lead by example, promoting positive lifestyle choices and enabling employees to make these choices. If you ensure that you’re taking the time to eat healthily, exercise regularly, and look after yourself physically and mentally, employees will follow your lead.

If you need support on any of the issues touched on in this post, please get in touch!


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