Woolies gets workers to lose weight

Woolworths has asked employees to lose weight after finding 80% of store managers were overweight or obese.

Woolworths boss Tjeerd Jegen directed store managers to undergo health tests after a conference last August where he decided many of his staff members were visibly unhealthy.

Jegen told The Daily Telegraph many employees were smokers and most were about seven years older than their biological age.

Woolworths offered employees gym memberships, nutritional advice and voluntary health retesting.

A spokesperson for Woolworths told SmartCompany the wellbeing program is about encouraging its staff to live healthier lives by providing a supportive environment and the tools to make changes if they wish.

“It does not target any one aspect of wellbeing but rather encourages our employees to understand their health and learn what they can do differently,” the spokesperson said.

University of Melbourne professor of management and director of the Centre for Workplace Leadership, Peter Gahan, told SmartCompany the move aligns Woolworths with its “fresh food” mantra.

“It’s really about aligning the way they present themselves to their customers in line with the values they espouse.”

“Woolworths say they’re the ‘Fresh Food People’… If customers get into the store to see overweight and unhealthy people, that’s not in line with their values,” said Gahan.

About 40% of store managers returned for retesting. Of those, about 60% had lost weight, 20% had stopped smoking and employees’ average biological age had dropped by three years.

Gahan said the move may be more effective if it were extended to all employees.

“If this is not just being applied to managers, you’d expect there to be some rationale to extend it to other staff… Perhaps they’re building an evidence base on which to extend it to their other employees,” he said.

But Maurice Blackburn associate Daniel Victory told SmartCompany employers needed to be careful not to discriminate against employees based on their appearance.

“Employees can’t treat employees less favourably because of their physical appearance and unreasonably require employees to provide health and medical information.”

“If an employee can safely perform his or her job, then there’s no need for employers to require them to provide medical information,” said Victory.

Woolworths told SmartCompany the supermarket did not have access to individual employees’ personal information.

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