by Paul Werth
, MA

A growing body of research has uncovered unfair treatment of overweight employees when their work performance is being evaluated. Examples include lack of fairness in hiring decisions as well as promotion, predicted success, suitability, or performance evaluations. Interactions between overweight and gender salary inequities have also been uncovered. One study by Kennedy and Homant reported that weight stigma in the workplace may be stronger than stigma towards mental illness or past felony conviction.
Until recently, little research has focused on practical interventions to mitigate weight bias on work performance ratings. Fortunately, there may be opportunities to even the playing field. Public policy has provides remedies for discrimination related to gender, race, sexual orientation, age, and religious discrimination, but little attention has been placed on weight. That might be changing.    

Rudolph and colleagues recently modified an existing intervention called the Structure Free Recall Intervention (SFRI) and applied it to weigh-based discrimination. The SFRI has been found to be effective in reducing gender and racial stereotypes in job performance ratings. The SFRI requires evaluators to recall observed positive and negative behaviors of an employee before they rate their performance. When the SFRI was applied to performance evaluations of overweight individuals, it appear to reduce the likelihood of stereotyping them. The researchers argue that the key to the SFRI’s success is the structuring of observed behavior recall. This means that the rater is forced to recall actions at work that were most relevant to employee performance, therefore, providing a more objective measurement that was less reliant on personal bias. In contrast, a less structured approached, such as free recall, may focus on negative behaviors which could feed into previously established evaluator biases. Future research should endeavor to expand upon practical interventions like the SFRI and make them easier to implement.

Weight-related stigma in the United States is important and has meaningful negative effects on people with overweight or obesity. In the workplace, we should do something to address this. The SFRI is a good start to avoiding unnecessary harm to the career aspirations of these people.


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