Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Better look "healthy" if you want a job

I was reading an article in the Free Press today about getting fit on a budget. It is for the most part a very good article and I was very impressed that they got through the whole article without mentioning weight or obesity or fat. This was not typical of many articles on fitness I have read that usually throw in a paragraph about our country’s so called "obesity epidemic" as some kind of scare tactic.

But there was one short paragraph about why a person who is unemployed might want to make an extra effort to get fit:

"If somebody looks unhealthy, it makes it even more difficult to get hired," Pawlak said. "And if somebody comes in who looks like a real health risk ... that speaks volumes to an employer."

This one really got me thinking. I mean how does one LOOK unhealthy. I mean, what are the physical characteristics that would lead an employer to think that a perspective employee looked unhealthy? This is especially so when most diseases don’t really have obvious physical characteristics. Maybe I am being unfair but based upon some recent online conversations with people, I suspect that when Mr Pawlak says that someone looks like a health risk, what he really means is that they look fat and/or underweight.

It is just a subtle thing but it reminds me of the employment discrimination many studies show that fat people face even in states like Michigan where weight is a protected employment class. It may indeed "speak volumes to an employer" but I think it is important to note that what a person's physical characteristics happen to be do not necessarily speak what the employer hears. There are employers who would let a person's gender speak volumes (she is going to get pregnant and quit) or who would let a person's race speak volumes (those people are lazy and never make good workers) too. It isn't right.

I could think of only one other physical characteristic that would alert an employer to the health status of an employee: age. Older Americans are yet another group who often have trouble finding employment and I suspect that at least some of that discrimination comes from a fear that older people will cost more in the health insurance department.

Which isn't to say that telling people that they need to be as fit and as "healthy looking" as possible is necessarily bad advice since on an individual level it probably would improve their chances of getting a good job. Ditto advising older job hunters to cover the grey and botox their wrinkles. But I think that as a country, we need to do whatever we can to reduce incidences where groups of people face real employment discrimination. Perhaps, in this case, it might be time for the government to take over providing health care for employees. At the very least it would eliminate much of an employers incentive to discriminate based on how "healthy looking" a prospective employee is.

1 comment:

trace said...

I've been drinking martini's forgive me if my post is choppy:

I really believe it is true that being overweight(especially if you're female) means you get less opportunity in the workplace. I think that is total B.S....just wrong, but it is a fact. Anyone who says otherwise is either naive, a fool, or a liar.

I never hope anyone uses discrimination as motivation to shape-up, because that's negative reinforcement, and that's never productive. As someone who is actively working hard at shaping-up (and having much success), I can say that my motivation is purely for myself--for what I want to be able to physically do...but I certainly am not under the impression that the people who like me will like me more as a thinner person.

I'm doing it because I was unhappy. I could feel my previous physicality slipping away, and that was so not cool to me.

I don't do it to get a better job or a better woman--just a more spunky me. My weight was physically bringing me down, so I'm bringing my weight down.

I love my friends no matter what their weight. As long as they're happy with themselves, then it's none of my business. Now, if someone asks me about myself--about my own routine and motivation--then I'm happy to offer advice and insight from my own experience, but I certainly don't expect that it will be taken or think of myself as somehow superior.

I just workout and watch what I eat for me--so I can wear the clothes I'm comfortable in and do all the things that I like to do and am not ready to give up! That's all.

Why people think someone else's weight is any of their business, or defines them, will never make any sense to me.

Good post, as always, Lynne.