Designing a Small-Business Wellness Program

Workspace wellness programs increase employee retention, engagement and camaraderie.
January 18, 2012

Small businesses thrive when they design niche products and deliver personalized service, whether they are selling to customers or marketing to employees. This approach works especially well when you're crafting a wellness program.

Several small-business owners shared their strategies for designing, implementing and managing wellness programs. Despite differences in owner philosophy and program features, they all said the programs increased employee retention, engagement and camaraderie.

Reductions in illness-related absences, fewer health care claims and an improved rating of key-man insurance were other business benefits the owners reported.

Key characteristics of great wellness programs

Well-designed wellness programs share several important features.

  • Meeting the unique needs of employees

  • Promoting holistic wellness for physical and mental well-being

  • Integrating into the daily routines of employees

  • Offering services that all employees value, from the health conscious and fit to those who want to make lifestyle changes

These small-business owners created and executed wellness programs that have been well-received by employees. Here's how they went about designing these successful programs.

1. Assess needs and preferences

To determine program components, business owners compared what they deemed significant with employee preferences.

  • Heidi Dent, president of Hirease in Southern Pines, North Carolina, wanted to touch physical, social and emotional aspects of wellness.

  • Rob Basso, president of Advantage Payroll Services in Freeport, New York, pursued activities that were “fun, cost-effective and easy for employees of all fitness levels.”

  • Wanda Truttman Sieber, owner of the Green Bay, Wisconsin, franchise location of Unishippers Global Logistics tapped wellness ideas in HR newsletters and consulted with local experts associated with the YMCA and hospital.

To pinpoint what would be most meaningful and useful to employees, owners conducted surveys prior to the launch of initiatives and after the programs were implemented. Plus, they ensured that individual needs were met by evaluating employee health profiles and considering concerns shared privately.

2. Design a suite of wellness offerings

The businesses designed programs with a broad range of services. Most components focus on physical aspects of wellness: movement, rigorous exercise and good nutrition. However, some offer perks such as onsite massages to relieve stress, fresh flowers in the office to improve mood and an employee-assistance program (EAP) to address mental-health concerns.

3. Integrate activities into daily routines

Many of the wellness activities have been integrated into workplace routines. For example, Advantage Payroll Services and Unishippers-Green Bay introduced pedometers so that employees could track and, hopefully, increase their daily steps, as recommended by the eliminating unhealthy habits in a few people to reduce insurance premiums. They support health-conscious lifestyles for all employees. They can more readily win broad support for wellness initiatives.

For example, Hirease subsidizes gym memberships and organizes competitions that emphasize caloric burn rather than weight loss. Unishippers in Green Bay provides an incentive for participation in a community athletic event.

Advantage Payroll Services offers wellness seminars on topics that interest all types of employees. Basso noted that, after introducing his program, the extremely health-conscious employees “are happier at work and tend to speak more positively about the organization.”

Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread.

Image credit: iStockphoto