Perhaps it’s time to step up workplace wellness efforts: The majority of workers say they’ve gained weight because of their job.

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey of more than 3,000 employees, 55% of U.S. workers feel they are overweight, and 44% of workers say they’ve gained weight in their present job. Twenty-five percent reported gaining more than 10 pounds, while 17% of workers say they’ve lost weight.

Among those who have gained weight, more than half blame their weight gain on sitting most of the day while nearly half say they’re too tired from work to work out. And more than a third blame stress-related eating.

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“Most people are sitting a lot, not exercising and have a lot of stress at work in terms of performance and productivity pressures.”

“Most people are sitting a lot, not exercising and have a lot of stress at work in terms of performance and productivity pressures,” says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder, a human resources and recruitment firm. “That stress is often associated with increased eating and a variety of other unhealthy habits.”

Workplace stress plays an especially big part in the growing epidemic, survey results reveal. Fewer than half of workers (41%) with extremely low stress levels feel they are overweight, compared to 77% of workers with extremely high stress levels. Translation? Workers who say they have extremely high on-the-job stress are 53% more likely to say they’re overweight than workers who say they have extremely low stress.

In fact, workers say their busy workday prohibits them from taking advantage of wellness benefits offered by their employers.

While a quarter of employees (25%) have access to employer-sponsored wellness benefits, including onsite workout facilities and gym passes, 55% of this group does not take advantage of them.

“Workers are becoming more and more health conscious, but due to higher stress, longer work days and constant multi-tasking, it is more difficult to find the time to act on wellness goals,” Haefner explains.

Wellness programs — though growing in popularity — have often returned mixed results, some industry experts say. An often-cited detriment to such programs is that they lack senior leader support or participation.

That’s one aspect that employers should focus on, Haefner says, as it will increase employee participation in such programs.

“Every person has some sort of health risk to varying degrees, whether it’s unhealthy eating, lack of exercise or sleep, drinking, smoking, or perhaps even something genetic,” she says. “Using a corporate wellness program can make positive change happen, but that has to be stressed from top leadership down in order to have an effect.”

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“Using a corporate wellness program can make positive change happen, but that has to be stressed from top leadership down in order to have an effect.”

Additionally, she says, “employers should stress to employees that managing workplace stress and eating habits isn’t necessarily about rethinking your current role or changing career ambitions, it’s about focusing on things you can control.”

Haefner says employers should help employees “feel less stressed, feel healthier overall and sleep better at night” by encouraging them to eat healthier, exercise often and unwind. One way to unwind, she suggests, is to not read work email after hours. In fact, some employers have banned the practice.

Survey results come as the obesity rate in the U.S. continues to rise. About two-thirds of the U.S. population is either overweight or obese, as weight-related conditions like heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes — leading causes of preventable death — are on the rise.

Obesity, of course, comes to bite back the employer. Obese workers, for example, cost employers thousands more a year than normal-weight employees, according to a study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. Meanwhile, according to Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, obesity in the U.S. costs $8.65 billion per year due to absenteeism in the workplace — accounting for more than 9% of all absenteeism costs.

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