Worksite Wellness: Make it Your Mission

By Elina Urli Hodges, Anne Thornhill, Hannah Jones, Meg Molloy of NC Prevention Partners

Nearly three-fourths of preventable illnesses and premature deaths in North Carolina are caused by three behaviors: tobacco use, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity. The cost is huge, both in dollars and in human lives, to employers and to our state.
 Doing nothing to address these three unhealthy behaviors costs N.C. employers nearly $6,000 per employee per year in medical costs, lost productivity, and absenteeism. However, by taking a comprehensive and effective approach to wellness – through policies, benefits, and environments – employers can engage all employees and produce significant cost savings over time.


It’s an individual’s right to be unhealthy – why should I care as an employer? As a small or large employer, the impact of unhealthy employees directly affects your bottom line. Unhealthy workers yield unhealthy work. Sick days, slowed productivity, and low morale add to your costs, as does the skyrocketing cost of health care. Unhealthy employees also add to our state’s burden. North Carolina’s health care costs are unsustainable, making us less attractive to companies looking to build a new workforce within our borders. Chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer, which are caused by unhealthy behaviors, cost North Carolina close to $40 billion each year. Healthy employees lead to healthy families and a healthy state, both economically and physically. Good health is a good investment. 


Why is a walking competition or HRA (health risk assessment) not enough? Most businesses are experiencing average to below-average participation in traditional wellness programs. By aligning policies, benefits, and environments with these programs, the message to all employees becomes clear that the company is invested in their health and encourages a lifetime of better health. Policies, benefits, and environments also reach ALL employees, particularly those who need the most help to improve their health. Examples include allowing employees to flex their schedule to take advantage of a morning walking group, or identifying and referring all employees who smoke to effective quit-tobacco programs with medications to support them. 


What kind of cost savings will my company see if we implement a comprehensive wellness program? When wellness policies and environments are put in place, over time we see a return on investment of $3 to $1 toward medical costs and absenteeism. Good policies that are clearly communicated can reach all employees, not just the “worried well,” and cost very little to implement. When wellness is an integral part of your organization’s culture, you can save money and reach all employees for very little investment. 


We can’t wait to act. The numbers are staggering: Two-thirds of adults are overweight, less than half get enough physical activity or eat well, and one-quarter smoke. Focusing on worksite wellness policies, benefits, and environments is a low-cost, high-impact way to improve employee health and productivity, without singling out particular individuals. It is time for N.C. employers, including the state, to include wellness in their mission statements, strategic plans, and budgets.

Top 5 Approaches to Better Corporate Wellness Programs

Leadership: Make an organizational commitment to wellness, starting at the top.

Comprehensive: Reach all employees, including those who need wellness the most.

Sustainable: Achieve true, lasting cost savings through sustainability.

Aligned: Send clear messages to employees through aligned environments, programs, and policies.

Effective: Evaluate your efforts to see success.

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NC Prevention Partners offers WorkHealthy America SM to companies of any size and any sector to assess current workplace wellness policies, benefits, and environments, and to build and sustain a comprehensive wellness program. NC Prevention Partners is a nationally recognized leader in prevention and wellness and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Chapel Hill. NCPP’s work with improving N.C. hospital food environments has just been recognized by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius with a Healthy Living Innovation Award. For more information, contact Patrick Callahan at or call 919-969-7022, ext 211.