What motivates small employers to embrace wellness?

Why small businesses should embrace wellness

Employees thrive in a “wellness culture"— a workplace that supports health and wellness in a variety of ways, including exercise, weight loss programs and stress management offerings — according to a recent Humana-sponsored study by the Economist,"The wellness effect: The impact of workplace programmes."1

Yet, recent findings reveal that only 16 percent of firms with fewer than 99 employees offered a wellness program.2 But there are several compelling reasons why they should.

The business case for wellness

Consider the benefits of a wellness program. “It can make small companies more attractive to job candidates. It can reduce overall insurance costs, or at least mitigate future premium increases," says Bruce Elliott, a wellness program expert and manager of compensation and benefits for the Society of Human Resource Management. “Owners may also see reduced turnover and associated costs,” according to Elliot. This really matters to the bottom line when you consider employers typically spend about a fifth of an employee’s salary to replace an employee when he or she leaves.3

Also consider the connection between wellness and engagement. A wellness culture magnifies the benefits that employees gain from their participation in a wellness program, and drives increased engagement with a company’s mission and goals.4

While small businesses lag behind their larger counterparts in establishing wellness programs, the Humana study finds they are often more agile, with less bureaucracy, so once owners decide to set up a wellness program, they can implement it faster than a larger company. Another positive: In an environment where employees work together closely, there's a sense of community surrounding the program that can help boost participation rates.

How? According to the study, it’s trust. Employees at small businesses are more likely to trust the motives of their employers than those at big corporations. “In larger organizations, employees are suspicious, like 'I don't want you to have my numbers. Are you going to punish me with a higher premium?'," says Elliott.

Getting started with wellness

Although small businesses make many decisions based on cost or cost impacts to the business, this study revealed that while larger enterprises pursued wellness programs as a means to manage health costs, smaller companies were motivated by workforce-related issues, including productivity and stress.

This makes sense to Molly Day, vice president of public affairs at the National NSBA, who puts it this way, ““When you're really small, you have community members and family working at your business and you want to take care of them.”

One option for a small business is to outsource its wellness programs. Another is to turn to your company’s medical insurance carrier. Many offer an embedded wellness component. Insurers, who have “skin in the game," Elliott explains, “often have wellness products or programs available at low or no cost.”

From the onset, small businesses can work with employees to adopt a plan everyone is enthusiastic about, which can encourage greater participation. And participation matters. Many programs offer engagement incentives that can benefit both a business and its employees. Humana’s insurance plans for small companies, for example, include a wellness program at no additional cost, and companies can earn a 15% credit when employees engage in the wellness program.

Tracking wellness results

The study found the top reasons small businesses offer wellness programs include increasing productivity, improving morale, and reducing stress.

Though they may not have access to big data-crunching systems, small businesses can still create metrics to judge the success of their programs. It's easy to note the number of products shipped or service calls answered at the beginning of the program, then review them six months and a year later to see if productivity has gone up. Employee sick leave is also easy to track. Insurance premiums offer another measure. They are likely to increase under any circumstances, but if the increase is lower than the national average, it's a good sign the business is doing something right, Elliott says.

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