A nationwide survey conducted earlier this year by Harris Poll, on behalf of CareerBuilder, says that 56 percent of U.S. employees think they are overweight.

That's the sentiment of 3,420 full-time workers across industries and companies of all sizes. According to the findings, 2 in 5 workers believe they have put on the pounds at their current job, on par with last year. Here's the skinny:

  • 25 percent said they gained more than 10 pounds.
  • 10 percent gained more than 20 pounds.

Why the weight gain

What or whom was to blame for the weight gain at their current jobs? When asked, the answers varied, but most blamed the job environment. From the report:

  • Sitting at a desk most of the day (51 percent)
  • Too tired from work to exercise (45 percent)
  • Eating because of stress (38 percent)
  • No time to exercise before or after work (38 percent)
  • Eating out regularly (24 percent)
  • Having to skip meals because of time constraints (19 percent)
  • Workplace celebrations (18 percent)
  • The temptation of the office candy jar (16 percent)
  • Pressure to eat food co-workers bring in (8 percent)
  • Happy hours (4 percent)

Interestingly enough, the survey also identified cities where workers are most likely to gain weight. The top five were Houston, Washington D.C., Dallas, Boston, and Los Angeles.

But the most surprising part of this survey? 64 percent of workers say their employers do not offer wellness benefits. While the responsibility for employees' health falls squarely on their shoulders (I have yet to see a manager mandate an "eat candy from the candy jar" policy or else...), employers must do significantly better to promote wellness at work, and empower their employees toward better lifestyle choices.

The need for a wellness culture in the workplace

The Wellness in the Workplace Study, conducted by the Optum Resource Center for Health & Well-being, has identified employee health and wellness trends for the last eight years in more than 700 US-based companies.

This year's study surveyed more than 240 human resource professionals from large employers (3,000+ employees) at the close of 2016 to identify the most notable trends companies are employing to improve the health and well-being of their employees.

Two clearly stood out for me.

Use of digital health technology

According to the report, employers are increasingly embracing digital technology to drive health behavior change and engagement. Since 2014, the use of online competitions, activity tracking devices, social networks, mobile apps and mobile messaging to help engage employees have increased. The reports states, "The prevalent accessibility of technology, coupled with the popularity of competitions such as walking challenges, lends itself to increased employee social interaction. This social connection is an increasingly important component of promoting physical health."

Incentives and rewards

The report states that use of incentives is at an all-time high (95 percent of employers offer it), with 74 percent of employers also offering incentives to family members. In 2016, health and wellness program participants "could earn an average of $532 per year, an increase of 17 percent since 2015," stated the report. Here's a sample of programs and earnings per participant:

  • $164 for health biometric screenings
  • $132 for tobacco cessation
  • $111 for weight management program
  • $109 for health risk assessment
  • $98 for health or fitness challenges program

Motivation is high because employers are rewarding several types of activities: 48 percent offer it at program enrollment; 46 percent offer it upon achievement of health outcome; and 60 percent of employer offer incentives at the completion of a program.

On a separate report, Rise, a Vancouver-based, HR technology company, lists several well-known companies that are using FitBit's wrist tracker technology for wellness initiatives that inspire competition and reward their most active employees. 

Closing thoughts

Your employees matter. For many, they are stressed, overworked, and have little options for improving wellness once they leave their corporate fortresses at the end of each day. But we're seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Organizational leaders are changing their perceptions and attitudes around workplace wellness. They are seeing the link between healthy, fit, and recharged employees to decreased absenteeism, lower turnover rates and reduced usage of sick leave, which saves their companies tons of money and increases their productivity.