With the rising cost of healthcare, employers have never been more aware of the connection between employee health and the company bottom line. A recent study showed that 75% of healthcare costs in the US stem from chronic illnesses like heart disease and obesity that can be addressed through wellness initiatives. Yet even with the increased popularity and proven effectiveness of health and wellness programs, many smaller companies feel unsure of how to make wellness initiatives work for them. I talk with small business leaders all the time who recognize the growing trend toward offering wellness plans but who aren’t really sure where to begin or if it will be cost effective for a small business. In a recent post, my colleague Bryan outlined strategic steps towards creating a comprehensive wellness program. If you are a small business owner who recognizes the value of employee wellness but lacks the resources or expertise to develop a substantial program, keep reading for some practical tips you can use to make wellness work in your organization
- Be realistic about cost: While it would be nearly impossible to implement an effective wellness plan without some level of financial investment, the first thing you should do is see what resources you already have available at little to no cost. For example, your insurance provider may offer health risk assessments for free or little charge. Or they may offer you premium rebates for having employees complete the assessment. Your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) may offer smoking cessation or weight loss guides. A local animal shelter or non-profit may bring stress relief animals to your offices in exchange for publicity and a small donation. A local gym may offer your company a volume discount if you encourage a certain number of employees to enroll. If you pull all of these things under the umbrella of your wellness plan, you’ve already made a great start.
- Be clear on your objective: Decide up front if your aim is to reduce premiums, improve attendance, or generally improve morale. In other words, think about why you’re considering a wellness plan in the first place and what existing problems you hope to address. One challenge that all small businesses will face is the difficulty in obtaining and tracking data. Data sets are smaller, may not be readily available, and will require time and effort to analyze. If you determine that attendance is an issue, you’ll need to put metrics in place to measure any improvement and tie that back to your wellness initiatives. Likewise, if you want to improve employee morale, you may want to convene a focus group or use employee surveys to measure results.
- Think outside of the box when it comes to rewards: It stands to reason that employees will be more motivated to participate in wellness plans and change their behavior if they’re rewarded. Many wellness plans incorporate rewards that tie back to healthy initiatives: a fit bit, meal delivery service, Whole Foods gift cards, etc. But don’t be afraid to get creative. USA Today recently published a story about a small business who used additional PTO hours as an incentive to get employees to walk daily and use pedometers. The reward was relatively low cost for the employer but highly meaningful for employees. Which brings us to the next point:
- Know your employees: If your employee population skews young and tech savvy, you may want to sponsor a Biggest Loser competition with an iPad as a reward for the winner. Likewise, if your demographics include older employees, sponsor a healthy recipe cook off and give a gift card for a cooking class to the winner. It’s also important to think about your employee disposition when setting goals for your program. If you employ many lifelong smokers with no interest in quitting, a smoking cessation initiative would likely fail. Focus on helping your employee make improvements they want to make as well.
- Set an example: We understand that senior management balances many competing demands, some that may prevent you from participating in the very initiatives you sponsor. We also understand that executives face the same challenges as everyone else when it comes to improving their health. But if you decide to implement a wellness plan, your example will help determine its success. If your company sponsors a softball team, you may not be able to play with them. But you can attend at least one game or send a letter of appreciation to team members. If company leaders show that they value and support wellness, employees will take note.
The connection between wellness and productivity can no longer be ignored. We hope that this article provides practical guidance and inspires you to make employee wellness a 2014 company resolution.