Startups More Likely to Offer Wellness Programs

By Stephen Miller, CEBS July 3, 2013

Although most small businesses don’t provide wellness programs for their employees, three out of four that do offer them find that the initiatives have a positive effect on their bottom line, according to a study by health care provider Humana Inc. and the National Small Business Association (NSBA), an advocacy organization.

The survey was conducted in the second half of 2012 among a sample of 1,005 U.S. owners and decision-makers of businesses with two to 100 employees. It defined wellness programs as initiatives aimed at encouraging employees to make healthier choices, such as getting preventative care, eating right and exercising. Key findings were reported in Workplace Wellness Programs in Small Business: Impacting the Bottom Line and include:

  • An overwhelming 93 percent of the respondents considered their employees’ physical and mental health to be important to their financial results, but only one-third expressed confidence in their ability to help workers manage their well-being.
  • Startups (companies less than 10 years old) led the way, with 63 percent having already adopted wellness programs.
  • 85 percent of startups say wellness programs are worth the investment.

“Nearly all small-business decision-makers consider their employees’ health to be top of mind, but they cited insufficient information and a general lack of confidence as their top barriers to implementing a successful wellness program,” Chris Nicholson, vice president of the employer group segment and COO of health and productivity solutions at Humana, told SHRM Online.

Much of the available data on wellness programs “isn’t specific to small businesses, and vendors often haven’t positioned data for small businesses,” Nicholson noted. Affordability is also an issue because many programs are priced in a way that drives the price per participant down as more employees are covered, he explained.

Startups Out in Front

A key factor in small-business owners’ decision about whether to introduce a wellness program is employees’ interest, the survey found. For instance:

  • Startups have discovered that their employees, many of them younger, prefer and pursue such offerings.
  • Most startups say these programs are helpful in recruiting and retaining workers.

“Employees show a greater willingness to engage in wellness initiatives when they are made a part of the culture right out of the gate,” Nicholson observed. He advised existing companies to “find champions who are passionate about wellness and use them to shift the culture. Reinforce their efforts with messages from [leaders at] the top.” Also, fitness contests using incentives such as cash or gift cards—even when the rewards are small—can drive enthusiasm.

Stress as Top Concern

While often focused on physical health, well-being programs can improve mental health, too. For example:

  • High employee stress is the No. 1 concern for small-business decision-makers, with stress levels more than triple other employee well-being concerns.
  • 67 percent said offering programs that help keep employees healthy would be the best health-related option, versus only 17 percent who said this of allocating more sick days.

“Stress caused by work, finances and family life is extremely important to manage effectively; it can have a significant impact on employee productivity,” Nicholson said. "Providing workers with financial-wellness coaching can pay off by reducing absenteeism and fostering engagement."

Stephen Miller,CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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