The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

The Fat and the Fired

Put down that jelly donut, friend.

Your Buddha-like figure might make you appear cute and cuddly to some folks, but to the management of your company, those extra ounces of adipose, gathering ominously at what used to be your waist, could get you in serious career trouble.

You knew that being overweight could result in higher cholesterol. Did you also realize that being fat could result in a lower paycheck?

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Well, it’s true. According to “How Your Bad Diet May Weigh On Your Job Review,” a recent article by Jen Wieczner in the Wall Street Journal, that muffin top in your middle is a matter of top priority to your employers, who “are tracking what staffers eat, where they shop and how much weight they’re putting on — and taking action to keep them in line.”

Are your bosses concerned about your weight because they care deeply about your well-being? Yes and no. Mostly no. Ask the HR department why they have sent spies to follow your progress through the supermarket, noting how much time you spend loading up on Mallomars and cheese doodles, and you will likely hear some malarkey about lowering “health care and insurance costs, while also helping workers.”

This makes no sense at all. Cookies and ice cream may not be health foods, but after a grueling, frustrating, cosmically depressing day at work, the more sugary treats you can stuff down your pie hole, the better you will feel, especially when washed down with beer.

Chug-a-lugging chocolate brownies, whipped cream, five-pound bags of sugar — they don’t call them comfort foods for nothing. And with your management, you deserve a little comfort. Eat well and you might protect your health, but what’s the sense of maintaining a perfect body, if your mind has rotted away?

It used to be that companies promoted good health with PowerPoint presentations on the 7 Building Blocks of a Healthy Breakfast. (bacon, more bacon, sausage, more sausage, left-over pizza, clotted cream and a impudent Gewurztraminer.) Now, employers are getting more invasive.

According to the Wieczner article, “1,600 employees at four U.S. workplaces, including the City of Houston, strapped on armbands that track their exercise habits, calories burned and vital signs.” Other employers are issuing blood-pressure cuffs and mobile monitors “to track wearers 24/7.”

If this seems a somewhat egregious invasion of your personal privacy, you can stand up for your civil rights and perhaps find a more permissive attitude at your next job. Or you could do the sensible thing and volunteer to have a chip implanted in your frontal lobe that will not only monitor all your eating activity, but also immediately report to management if you harbor any negative thoughts about the boss’s massive pay check.

Even if your company does not wire you for sound, they can still be checking up on you. As the Journal reporter reports, “Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina recently began buying spending data on more than 3 million people in its employer group plans. If someone, say, purchases plus-size clothing, the health plan could flag him for potential obesity — and then call or send mailing offering weight-loss solutions.”

Or they could simply send a team of thugs to your house to beat you senseless. When it comes to adopting a weight-loss program, nothing is more motivating than a good beating.

Fortunately, there are some people who are concerned about big brother bosses sticking their noses in our pudding cups. Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, “worries employers could conceivably make other conclusions about people who load up the cart with butter and sugar.”

Really, it’s sad. Our bosses used to worry about stuffing our briefcases with office supplies. Now they’re freaked because we’re stuffing our shopping carts with kitchen supplies.

As you might expect, the firms who buy this data deny they are trying to identify specific individuals. “And if the targeted approach feels too intrusive,” reporter Wieczner explains, “employees can ask to be placed on the wellness program’s do-not-call list.”

Yes, I’m sure the company will be happy to take you off the wellness list and immediately find you a nice comfy position on the paranoid list.

Bottom line — in today’s workplace, it’s no longer enough to watch what you say. You also have to watch what you eat. I suggest a steady diet of crow. Nothing will move your career ahead faster than an empty stomach, an empty mind, and a steady diet of “I’m sorry.”

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, Calif. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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Kaiser Permanente

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