Tips

How to Create a Wellness Program for Your Small Business

Ashley Brooks15 Jul 2021

Corporate wellness programs have been found to improve employee health, productivity, employee retention, lower health insurance costs, and more. If you are trying to create a wellness program for your small business, you must consider the needs of your employees and will likely be experimenting with various programs. What works for one company, may not work for another. 

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How to Create a Wellness Program for Your Small Business in 5 Steps

A company wellness program promotes healthy lifestyles among employees both inside and outside of the office. According to Harvard Business Review, more than 9 in 10 organizations offer employees at least one kind of wellness benefit, and 3 in 5 have allocated a budget specifically for employee wellness. 

To create an employee wellness program, you must consider all aspects of wellness in order to have the most effective program for your company. Consider programs that target one or a few of the following eight dimensions of wellness:

  1. Physical
  2. Intellectual
  3. Emotional
  4. Spiritual
  5. Financial
  6. Social
  7. Occupational
  8. Environmental

Step 1: Determine Employee’s Needs

To determine the type of wellness program to implement, you should directly ask your employees. Considering conducting an employee survey to evaluate personal wellness interests. If you are looking for guidance, check out the CDC workplace health promotion survey guide

You may also want to consult with your legal team to do a formal health risk assessment or an environmental audit of your workplace. If you already offer health insurance, analyzing medical and pharmaceutical health utilization rates may also highlight wellness gaps at your organization.

We spoke with Julian Goldie, CEO of his company, Goldie Agency about a holistic approach to assess wellness. He suggests creating assessments and launching activities that identify which of the dimensions of wellness each employee is lacking or needs more improvement. If an employee needs more physical improvement, the priority project will fall to physical wellness programs. It doesn't need to be costly. 

Step 2: Set Goals & Objectives

Using the information gathered from assessing your surveys, audits, and evaluations, now establish goals and objectives for the program regarding the aspect of wellness you wish to improve. Set specific goals that you anticipate the program will achieve. For many organizations, these goals are improving workers’ health and thus, reducing health care costs.

To know if your program is effective, objectives should be specific, measurable, timely, achievable, realistic, time-sensitive, or also known as “SMART” format. For example, Instead of saying this program will reduce absenteeism and increase employee productivity, perhaps phrase it by saying “reduce the number of employee sick days taken by 10 percent in 6 months."

You will also want to highlight the organization’s short and long-term priorities in your objectives, and will likely have multiple objectives. Your employees will want to know what is the potential value they receive in participating in your new program. Additionally, you may want to monitor program engagement among your senior-level executives, as they may be less inclined to participate, and hamper company perception of the program.

Step 3: Lead By Example

When beginning to initiate your wellness program, consider adopting wellness behaviors prior to implementation in order to ground principles of wellness in the company culture. Great leaders and managers lead by example, which includes participation in wellness programs and new company initiatives. 

From day one, the CEO shapes the culture of a company. If you are leading your office towards a healthier and happier environment, then start with yourself. You can do this by making healthier choices when you are in the office so others will follow. For example, go for a walk during lunch and invite coworkers to join you, supplying your office with healthy snacks and lunches for everyone to enjoy. 

According to Sara Bandurian, Operations Coordinator at Online Optimism, superiors, and executive members can also employ poor habits and hinder wellness initiatives. She suggests that superiors working long hours can make employees feel like they need to come early and stay late too. Setting expectations that employees are always on-call and available to answer their phones or respond to emails; encouraging people directly or in-directly to eat lunch at their desk or worse, skip it completely. 

Step 4: Experiment with Activities

Your first program may not work for everyone, and people enjoy doing different things, have different abilities, and personal lives. Incorporating different activities to appeal to various employees will help embed work-life balance and the importance of wellness within the culture of your company. 

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Make sure your health and wellness program is accessible to employees with different body types, health conditions, and abilities, says Daivat Dholakia, Director of Operations at Force by Mojio. One way to accomplish this is to provide a wide variety of different health and fitness activities that employees can participate in. Installing a new wellness program can show employees that you value their physical and mental health. Many studies show that physical activity, mindfulness, healthy eating, and other wellness-related practices can boost job performance and keep workers mentally stimulated.

Step 5: Get Feedback

At this point, you have targeted your wellness needs and determined your priorities within your clear objectives, but you should also have a plan for the evaluation of your program. Whether that be a process for collecting feedback from your employee or monitoring usage data, you will want to clearly identify when and how the effectiveness of your wellness program will be measured. 

Regardless of the size of your business or the size of the budget, you will want to ensure you are getting your money's worth. Without knowing whether your program is effective, or well-perceived by your workers, you may be spending thousands of dollars on meaningless initiatives. By evaluating your program throughout its implementation, you will also be able to quickly identify what does not work and adopt a new program that better matches your employee’s needs. 

Wellness Programs for Small Businesses

Smoking cessation programs and transportation reimbursements are great ways a business can improve their employee's well-being, regardless of business size. Not all wellness programs of larger corporations may be possible for a small business to adopt such as bike-sharing programs on a large corporate campus or a fancy on-site company fitness center. While these are attractive programs, small businesses can offer other types of wellness initiatives, without changing the physical structure of their company.

Dr. Leah Weiss Co-founder of Skylyte and specialist in workplace health suggests that for a small company, make everyone feel valued and included. Go to the employees with pulses and then show you listen to the results of what they are struggling with and need.

Themed Wellness Days such as “Mindful Mondays” or “Wellness Wednesdays.”

Creating a weekly ritual around these days to inspire your employees to make time to prioritize their wellbeing. For example, you could send out a short, guided meditation recording to employees at the start of their week, suggest Jill Kane, executive wellness leadership and workplace wellness consultant.

Provide Flexible Working Hours

Companies are beginning to accept that allowing employees the flexibility to work remotely or have lenient schedules during the workday greatly improves employee work-life balance. This promotes the perception of employer trust in the employees and provides the employee a means to prioritize their personal needs as well.

Consider Financial Education

Offering financial education for your employees can help ease this stress while also teaching them valuable life skills, which they will enjoy, says Managing Broker of Condoblackbook, Sep Niakan. This isn't just about the 401K customer who comes in once a year. Employees will benefit from learning how to budget, invest, and plan for retirement. If an employee is preoccupied with money issues, there's a significant probability they're not engaged at work and don't have time to focus on their wellness.

Enable Physical Wellness

If you do not have the physical space or the budget, perhaps consider discounts at fitness and wellness centers, and yoga studios for employees. If this is already offered within your health plan, make sure your employees are aware of such benefits. 

Additionally, supplying the office with healthy food and snack options made accessible to your employees will also enable better food choices and the ability for an employee to meet their own personal health goals, and not feel as sluggish during the workday.

Incentivize Physical Wellness

Gamify the concept of wellness with employees being rewarded for walking the maximum steps, climbing the most stairs, meditating the most, or visiting the gym regularly. This can be in the form of easily available vouchers and gift cards, suggests Joe Flanagan, Senior Employment Advisor for VelvetJobs.

Activity-based challenges such as walking challenges forming teams also helps in maintaining social connection, building relationships with colleagues you may have never met, and getting encouragement and accountability when you need it most, says Kane.

Offer Preventive Health Services

Helping employees identify potentially serious ailments and health issues with regular preventative health tests and checkups can reduce absenteeism and improve productivity in the workplace. Consider robust health insurance packages or care membership plans, such as Mira.

Consider Offsite Interactions and Activities

Taking quarterly or bi-annual offsite trips to interact as people, not colleagues will help boost morale and break up the strenuous workday. Even a short weekend away can do wonders for motivation and productivity. Make sure this is something that is actually wanted, as opposed to forcing your employees to make inconvenient familial arrangements.

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Founder and Marketing Director of Spyic, Katherine Brown suggests offering gamedays, where employees are encouraged to spend a designated afternoon interacting with coworkers to bond and take a break from work. This type of program is an excellent alternative to other expensive ones, such as outdoor bonding trips that may cost a lot for a small business and have no immediate impact on employee wellness and morale. 

As an employer, showing that you care about your employee’s health should also be embedded within the company culture. If you foster an environment that directly contributes to unnecessary work-related stress, then you may just be putting a temporary solution on a larger-scale issue. Allowing employees the ability to tune out, mute notifications, and focus fully on their personal lives once they leave the workplace should be your first priority, above all else.

Wellness Programs for Remote Workers

As we have seen remote work drastically increase over the past few years, workplace wellness programs have shifted to virtual options as well. Providing employees various subscription options will allow better freedom and affordability in improving their health. Providing discounted gym memberships or reimbursement options is a great option for all employer types. Similarly, with an increased prevalence of food-delivery services, consider those for healthy eating programs. 

Employees can also work together to share their own insight with each other. Together, employees can build a robust database of workout videos, recipe tutorials, mediation sessions, and more. You may find that an incentivized fitness challenge may pique interest and participation, but keep in mind that each person has different abilities, and the most extreme workouts should not necessarily get all the recognition. Adopt a similar mindset of allowing your employees time to authentically engage with the ability to share their interests and ideas with each other. 

This can be done for numerous different types of wellness initiatives. You may want to consider hosting a virtual coffee hour, or “happy hour” to promote interaction and team-building. If you are working on a strict budget, these are great ways to begin showing that you hear and see the needs of your employees, and fostering a workplace that promotes balance. Check out various wellness vendors that offer wellness platforms for employees to track progress, challenges, and various program offerings. 

Corporate Wellness Program Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Still unsure whether your company should implement a company wellness program? Consider these frequently asked questions to help hone in on the most effective and affordable option for a higher likelihood of program success.

What wellness programs tend not to work, or are least effective?

Senior Employment Advisor for VelvetJobs, Joe Flanagan states that there is no one answer. If you have a faulty implementation plan, even the programs with seemingly the most potential can fail. For example, yoga and meditation are great stress relievers and wellness initiatives, but offering them only twice annually may make them seem like more of a chore than a benefit. Similarly, for employees forced into informal social interactions, without a routine or shared excitement, these programs may not work as effectively. 

How do you best optimize the number of employees participating in the wellness program?

To best optimize attendance at your wellness programs, Customer Success Manager from Zavvy, Alexander Heinle suggests the following:

  1. Reach people where they are - Many HR managers believe communicating a new program through email is enough to promote it. Emails get lost easily, so amplifying your message through various communication channels such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and other carefully planned program reminders.
  2. Promote the benefit first - Employees want to know why they should care, and the selfish benefit they get from participating. Make sure the program you are offering is one with employee buy-in.
  3. Include quotes from real people - Including testimonials will build trust and relatability. Try to include a quote or video in your program communication.
  4. Proactively answer doubts - If your program relates to topics such as mental health, be cognizant of your employee’s privacy. They may not want to share their concerns with the company, and they should know they shouldn’t have to.
  5. Be brief - the shorter your message, the easier to follow

Why should an employer consider new wellness programs?

The demographic, expectation, and lifestyle of the workforce are constantly changing, says Flanagan. Meaning employees have a different notion of what constitutes work and benefits and have evolving expectations from their employers. Any organization that looks after its employees is bound to attract and retain top talent, have higher productivity, and a healthy rate of growth. 

Bottom Line

When creating a company wellness program for your small business, remember that what works at another organization, may not be relevant or desired at yours. Keep your employees at the forefront of the conversation when designing your program and optimize the participation of your senior leaders. Company buy-in will drastically improve the intended outcomes of your program.