Festive season - managing food at work guidelines

18 Dec 2018

This is the time of year when there often seems to be a never-ending supply of festive food in offices across the UK but for some people this can be a real problem so to help a PCS member has drawn up some guidelines.

It's thought about 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder and for these people food can rule their life. Eating disorders kill more people than any other mental health condition and we need to take them far more seriously than we do. There has been a lot more focus on anorexia and bulimia in recent years but binge eating disorder is rarely talked about and is massively misunderstood – and remember it will still kill you, just more slowly than anorexia or bulimia will. It would be unfair and unrealistic to ban all food from offices but there are a number of steps you can take to help:

  • Agree a limited number of places for leaving food and have some areas that remain food-free to allow people to sit in these areas if they want.
  • Try and limit the number of days food is left out – cake available for five days a week is bad for all of us but potentially disastrous for some. 
  • Think really carefully before bringing biscuits to the team meeting – it is really hard for someone to get up and leave a meeting if the biscuits are a real problem. 
  • Never press food on anyone – maybe offer once but don’t go on about it. Don’t comment on what anyone else is eating / taking from the communal food supply – this can drive secretive eating behaviour which is really unhelpful.
  • Don’t put pressure on people to socialise outside work or join team meals (in fact make it clear that it is fine if people don’t). 

You can’t tell if someone has an eating disorder from how they look so don’t assume everyone in your team is fine. 

And read some tips for sufferers: 

  • Tell people. We know this is really hard because eating disorders are some of the most secretive conditions but people can’t help you by changing their behaviour unless they know they have to. If you don’t want to be open with everyone then are you able to be open with your line manager or another team member who can help? 
  • Talk to HR. If you have suffered for more than a year then you are likely to be covered by the Equality Act. If you really struggle to find a desk that isn’t near food or find team meetings with biscuits a total nightmare then your employer should be able to implement some simple adjustments to help you. 
  • If you have a flexible working policy, use it to your advantage. Even if you don’t feel you can be completely open with managers about your condition you can explain that there are reasons why you might sometimes need to sit away from the team or work at home. 
  • Even if you can’t face talking to managers or HR then please talk to someone. Many workplaces have disability or mental health support networks and most offer an employee assistance programme.
  • Get treatment – your GP or the charity BEAT are good places to start if you want help.

This is an edited version of an article written for the latest issue of Disability Matters, the newsletter by and for disabled members in PCS and anyone keen to promote disability equality.

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