Employee Wellness Programs or Extra Sick Days?

Employee health has an overwhelming effect on a small business's fiscal health. What's your business doing about it?
September 28, 2012

Small businesses overwhelmingly consider employees’ health to have a significant impact on the company’s fiscal health, but few are offering programs to help, according to a new report.

An Overwhelming Consensus

Ninety-three percent of small firms think employee health is important to business—and of that, 54 percent rated it “extremely important.” But just 22 percent currently offer any kind of wellness program.

Humana and the National Small Business Administration (NSBA) surveyed more than 1,000 small business owners about health and wellness programs, defined as steering employees toward healthy eating and exercise as well as seeking preventative care.

Three in four small businesses that offer such initiatives report that they're good for the bottom line. But half of those surveyed complained that insufficient information is available to help small businesses introduce programs.

Employee Interest a Factor

One of the key factors in introducing such programs, of course, is employee interest. Startups, not surprisingly “find their employees, many of them younger, prefer and pursue such offerings,” according to the report.

Nearly nine in 10 startups say wellness programs are worth the price tag, and 63 percent have adopted such programs. Most say the initiatives are a useful tool for employee recruitment and retention.

“We’re encouraged that employers recognize the importance of wellness programs, and through our collaboration with the NSBA intend to provide educational resources and tools small businesses can use to help address the wellness barriers they identified,” says Jerry Ganoni, president of Humana’s Small Business Division, in a statement.

Two-thirds of all those surveyed think employees would prefer their company offer wellness programs as opposed to extra sick days (17 percent).

The Importance of Wellness—Especially in Small Business

The smaller the business, the greater the focus on wellness—and the higher the company’s confidence in its ability to manage any initiatives, according to the report.
That’s partly because employee illness can be a bigger burden to small companies than larger ones: Nearly 40 percent of startups said they see an immediate decrease in productivity when employees are out sick. That’s compared to 29 percent of larger firms.

Nearly half (48 percent) of companies with two to nine employees said that their employees take few sick days. This may appear as a positive, per the report, but 57 percent reported that their employees work while sick.

The study suggested a focus on employee mental health could be crucial for small businesses.

High employee stress is “the number one concern” for small businesses, the report said, especially those at the smallest companies, where stress levels can be more than triple those elsewhere.

What wellness initiatives do you offer? And what do you think employees prefer: extra sick days or health programs?

Photo: Thinkstock