UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Wellness in the workplace: Carolina Women in Business Part 2


This is the second in a series of articles about the Carolina Women in Business annual conference. The other articles in the series focus on leaders making an impact on the global stage, women in the board room and work-life balance.

The “Wellness in the Workplace” panel at the eighth annual Carolina Women in Business Conference explored initiatives to create healthier working environments and improve employees’ work-life balance.

Panelists included:

  • Parker Wilson (MBA ’11), key leader, Lululemon Athletica
  • Sarah Atai, manager of work/life balance programs, SAS
  • Peter C. Lee, global occupational health and wellness program leader, General Electric
  • Peggy Gibson Carroll, managing partner, Patient Alliances
  • Suzanne Borgos, principal, Health Strategies and Solutions
  • Stevie McNeal (MBA ’87), vice president, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina

 Atai, who moderated the panel, launched the discussion with an overview of different companies’ wellness policies over the past several years.

“Hospitals do wonderful things for patients but on the business side they are about 20 years behind the curve,” Borgos says. “Their wellness programs are finite and they don’t always practice what they preach.”

Wellness has posed challenges for insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield, especially because North Carolina is in the bottom decile of healthcare in the country, according to McNeal. Workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield initially showed a distrust of company wellness programs because they felt “big brother-ish,” she says. Eventually wellness programs became more accepted with the influence of peer leaders.

Lee, who works to incorporate a globally applicable wellness program for employees, says GE has seen success by changing the work environment with a

“HealthAhead” certification program. This initiative scores the relative health of GE’s workplace sites around the world on elements such as healthy food, tobacco use and physical and mental health. Lee says 475 sites have been certified, and the company will look next to reach families and individuals on a personal basis.

At Lululemon, where the company motto is “sweat once a day,” wellness might be easier to incorporate into the company culture. “We have a shared camaraderie between our company and our guests via our product and we get people excited about wellness,” says Wilson. For example, the company pays for employees to take two yoga classes each week.

Company wellness initiatives also are good business. “When people are happier and they feel better, they don’t miss as much work. It’s not rocket science,” says Borgos. Employee wellness influences the company environment, Carroll agreed. “We encourage teams to train together and go to events like Relay for Life,” she says. “It builds a culture of family and camaraderie, which are the things that keep people at a company.”

To make the business case for wellness across national borders, a company must stay connected to major international health trends, Wilson says. “We have to look at the company culture in each place and innovate around that space to connect to what employees are interested in,” she says. “Wellness has to be integrated with the company to be sustainable.”

A discussion of how their companies promote wellness initiatives among employees working at home generated the most debate.

“While these employees may miss out on on-site initiatives, we have to invest in making sure people can participate via teleconference or are compensated for participating in activity in their own space,” McNeal says. Similarly, Lee says that GE recently created a series of wellness videos available to its employees on the Internet that allow workers to participate in the same programs from the comfort of their home offices.