Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Coping to Repair the Career Damage of Workplace Weight Discrimination

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Coping to Repair the Career Damage of Workplace Weight Discrimination

Article excerpt


Discrimination in the workplace occurs when characteristics other than qualifications affect how an individual is treated. Unequal treatment, usually unfavorable, can take many forms. Since the early 1960s, the U.S. has passed several laws aimed at eliminating discrimination based on personal characteristics. Despite the most valiant of efforts, racial, gender, age, and sexual stereotypes, have crept into the behavior of even the most educated individuals within organizations (Orpen, 1995; Ragins & Cornwell, 2001; Sanchez & Brock, 1996; Shaffer, Joplin, Bell, Lau, & Qguz, 2000; Snape & Redman, 2003). Additionally, obesity stigmatization, a form of employee devaluation scarcely addressed legally, socially, or within organizations, is widespread (Andreyeva, Puhl, & Brownell, 2008). Rebecca Puhl, a leading obesity researcher, described weight discrimination as "... a very serious social problem that we need to pay attention to" (Shkolnikova, 2008). As social problems invariably become organizational challenges, it is necessary to expend significant effort examining workplace weight discrimination.

Weight discrimination may be obvious or subtle in work relationships, hiring, promotions, and layoff decisions. Studies have established that workplace discrimination does in fact occur in the workplace in all phases of the employment process (Bellizzi & Hasty, 1998; Finklestein, 2007; Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004; Larkin & Pines, 1979; Maranto & Stenoien, 2000; M. V. Roehling, 1999; M. V. Roehling, Pichler, Oswald, & Bruce, 2008; P. V. Roehling, Roehling, Vandlen, Blazek, & Guy, 2008). How this weight discrimination affects employees has been discussed in the form of employee attitudes and behaviors (Wilkins, 2006). However, little research has been conducted on how employees actually cope with weight discrimination.

In this study, we explore how employees cope with perceived weight discrimination. The coping mechanisms generally serve as a way to overcome the devaluation and reduce the negative outcomes. Coping manifests itself in several forms, such as active or disengagement strategies (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989). Puhl and Brownell (2006) found that common coping strategies for victims of weight discrimination include: heading off the negative comments; using positive self-talk, faith, religion, and prayer; eating excessively; dieting; seeking social support; ignoring the situation, and responding positively (being nice). Examining these multiple facets of weight discrimination may provide researchers and practitioners with more effective ways of managing diversity and interpersonal interactions in the workplace.

Drawing on attribution theory, spillover theory, and the transactional stress model, we propose and test a model of coping with workplace weight discrimination and its career outcomes. We seek to address two research questions: 1.) What are the career outcomes of workplace weight discrimination and 2.) What are the moderating influences of coping strategies on the effects of workplace weight discrimination?


Workplace Weight Discrimination

Workplace weight discrimination is surprisingly common, as over two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese (National Center for Health Statistics, 2007). Obese individuals are often perceived as being less competent (Lennon, 1992), less attractive (Clayson, 1989; Harris, Harris, & Bochner, 1982; Kalisch, 1972; Lerner & Gillert, 1969; Rothblum, Miller, & Garbutt, 1988), gluttonous (Hebl, et al., 2004), less desirable, less productive, less successful, less conscientious, less aggressive, less ambitious, disorganized, indecisive, mentally lazy, and lacking self-discipline (Larkin & Pines, 1979). A study found that 54% of respondents experienced weight stigmatization from co-workers or colleagues, 43% from employers or supervisors, and 25% experienced overall job discrimination (Puhl & Brownell, 2006). …

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