A pier of mine came to me to me looking for some advice on how to handle a issue with one of his directs. The directs job required them to travel and interact with clients. The direct over the last few months has lost a lot of weight. The person was aways skinny, but it is clear some thing must be wrong. HR has advised him not to talk to the employee due to recent law suits in the area over similar classes. The manager is more concerned with the health of the team member then any thing else.

Is it ever appropriate to give feed back on or question a eating disorder on a direct? If not, does any one have any idea on how you could handle this?

tlhausmann's picture
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[quote="BobAnderson"]> HR has advised him not to talk to the employee[...][/quote]

If I understand what your peer is telling you then his own HR office when notified of a potential serious health issue is to NOT discuss it with the direct?

As a manager you focus on behaviors (work product being one) and if work is affected then showing concern is valid. I would hope that your peer knows his direct well enough that discussing the company's EAP (employee assistance program) would be an acceptable conversation.

HMac's picture

I think this is is SO much like the "personal attire" issue in the recent podcast that you could re-listen to it, and substitute the eating issue.

..because it's about the [i]effects[/i] on the job that the [i][b]behavior [/b][/i]may be causing...

The similarities are numerous: tricky issue, personal issue, HR gets all nervous, etc.


BobAnderson's picture

The health condition is not directly effecting her job. She does a good job, but like pointed out in the clothing podcast there is some things we can talk about. It is more of a concern for her health.

I will point him at the last feed back pod cast (feed back on clothing).

Thank you for the assistance.

akinsgre's picture

I can see how handling a health issue like this would fit well with the feedback around attire and personal odor, etc...

However, if this isn't affecting performance, then the strength of the feedback model (behavior -> outcome) is lost.

If there isn't a behavior/outcome link, then this is an area where feedback is not appropriate. That isn't to say you shouldn't talk about it.

You just can't give adjusting feedback when there isn't any outcome to improve upon with the adjustment.

If you're close enough to the direct that you can talk about a personal issue without being concerned about a negative response, then talk to them about it.

However, this might well be a "It's none of your business" issue.

jhack's picture

I'd be very hesitant. Weight, smoking, diet, alcohol consumption, among others, should only be raised as issues IF there is a performance impact at work.


WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

This person's weight loss is a symptom. It's the result of something else. Your peer is assuming it's an eating disorder. There are other explanations as well. I think the "How to manage through a personal crisis" cast might have some pertinent information in it.

Whether or not the issue should be addressed depends on many factors. First of all, as others have said, if it is affecting her job then it should be addressed by her manager. Secondly, what kind of relationship does the manager have with the direct? My directs often come to me with issues from their personal lives. Sometimes they just want someone to talk to, sometimes they want an objective point of view.

So here is what I would try, preferably in the O3. First, open the door, maybe she wants to talk about it. Once a month or so M&M suggest asking someone "So, overall, how's it going?" I'd do that in the next O3. This gives her the opportunity to talk about the issue if she wants. Be sensitive. If she clearly doesn't want to talk about it, let it go. If you sense she does, but needs encouragement, give it to her.

It's a delicate line to walk, but when you care about people you have to assume that responsibility. Personally I don't want to be the person who watches a friend suffering without offering what assistance I can.

bflynn's picture

The advice is on - it can be hard, but you need to keep a little distance. If its not affecting work, then your concern is whether it will in the future. I think the answer is that sure it might become a concern.

Personally, I would broach the subject in a future O3 once as a general concern for health, not specifically as an eating disorder. There could be lots of reasons this is happening. Something like "Jane, I've noticed you've lost a lot of weight lately. Is everything OK?" She now has the chance to talk about it or not. Then you either engage a little or drop it.

End result - your employees are adults and have the right to make choices about their lives. They even have the right to make bad choices, which I think we tend to forget. Even if those choices are not the ones you would make, it is not your concern unless it affects work. Keep your judgement out of it.


rthibode's picture

If this direct does have an eating disorder, it has to be handled with extreme care. If you decide that ethically you need to mention your concern, PLEASE contact an eating-disorders clinic near you for some advice on how to broach the topic. I did this a few years ago with a direct. I was surprised by how much specific guidance there was about what to say and not say.

Here is the clinic I contacted about my direct. They appear to have some good material online now.

AndrewM's picture

Difficult situation, but this is not a feedback issue in my opinion.

There's no valid reason for the manager to encourage a change in behaviour related to a work outcome. There is no work outcome. I think it would be inappropriate to suggest that the manager could end a comment about weight or weight loss with "what could you do differently about that in the future".

There is however a valid reason for it to be brought up if the manager and the direct are two human beings with a meaningful relationship. That would be the same valid reason that would exist if that was your neighbour, brother, friend, long time accountant and so on. Bottom line, rapid weight loss or low weight is typically a sign of a serious health problem (physical or mental). Human beings who care about each other, care about health problems.

As people said above, if the manager has a reasonable relationship with the direct then I think it would be right to raise the issue in an appropriate way. If the person's not interested in talking about it, then that is all you can do. I do think a great deal of tact is necessary. If the manager can't muster the tact (I'm not sure I could to be honest), or doesn't have a genuine relationship with the person then it should be left alone.