When employers look to identify the drivers behind staff-related pressures, they naturally focus on workloads, team dynamics and perhaps even harassment. They appreciate that difficulties at home, such as relationships, bereavements and other problems, will affect how an employee feels at work, but we rarely see them considering body image as a drainer for wellbeing. Yet last year alone, one in three adults said they were so stressed about their body image that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope.
So how exactly do body image concerns relate to wellbeing at work?
Body image concerns can affect people of all ages and have a direct impact on their mental and financial wellbeing. There is often a perceived or real expectation of how someone should look and dress, both at work and socially within friendship groups, creating significant pressure to fit the mould. Social media constantly reminds individuals of how they ‘should’ look and dress, leading to spiralling anxiety levels and plummeting self-esteem, as people try to keep up with trends and changes. In women, research has even identified a link between body image issues and career aspirations and confidence.
Furthermore, concerns over body image can lead to financial hardship and debt, as individuals overspend on items to build and enhance body confidence, with clothes, make-up and material items used to boost this perception. ‘Fast fashion’ has introduced a rise in throwaway items and the need to replenish them constantly with new brands, colours and shapes. We have seen employees’ clothing/accessory purchasing patterns change, with people now filling their online baskets and pressing ‘buy’ at one minute past midnight on payday. Clothes, aesthetic treatments and even gym memberships may come before food, reflected in the often higher uptake of free fruit or subsidised meals at work towards the end of a month.
This high and fast spend on ‘personal’ items fits with rising concerns over body image. Obviously, not all financial burdens are related to image-conscious purchasing, but this is a more significant factor than meets the eye.
What can employers do to help?
Whilst wellbeing support is now on the radar for many organisations, many offerings remain quite narrow. Financial wellbeing, for example, is often overlooked or not seen as relevant to the workplace, but its impact is so far-reaching that this is absolutely not the case. The promising news is that areas such as this can be greatly improved simply by providing appropriate training to employees.
Enabling individuals to develop and build their own resilience and wellbeing is key to how they respond to rising worries and pressures, such as those around body image. Put simply, those employers who embrace this approach will reap the rewards, with a workforce that is more engaged, connected, happy and focused.
Find out about how The Wellbeing Project can help to support your employees’ mental and financial wellbeing here.