Effective, affordable small business wellness ideas

How wellness programs can help your small business

Worksite wellness programs can have a positive effect on a business' bottom line. According to a study performed by Harvard researchers (published in "What's the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs" in Harvard Business Review, December 2010), for every dollar a company spends on wellness, insurance costs fall by $3.27 and absenteeism-related costs fall by $2.73. Other benefits include improved employee productivity, retention, and morale.

If your organization has 10 employees or fewer, you may think investing in a worksite wellness program is too costly or time-consuming, or that such an investment makes more sense for large companies. True, some of the strategies out there, such as dedicated wellness staff, on-site workout facilities and changing cafeteria menus, may not be relevant or practical for your organization. So what can you do cost-effectively to improve health and wellness for your employees and be a model for your community?

Many micro-businesses throughout the state are implementing effective wellness programs with very limited budgets by tapping into free and low-cost resources and selecting strategies that are appropriate and affordable.

The Insurance Source in Keene, with seven employees, started focusing on healthy eating and active living for their employees six months ago. Their workplace wellness program is spearheaded by the company's president, Cheryl Belair.

She explained, "I like the idea of having a healthy environment for the employees. If you're healthy physically, you're healthy mentally. It is more than having productive employees – it's about having happy, healthy employees."

While Belair had provided some wellness support to her employees in the past, last year she turned to Maryanne Keating, the Cheshire County HEAL coordinator, for ideas, resources and help in developing a more formalized plan.

Keating works with dozens of businesses – many of them with fewer than 10 employees – to help them develop and implement workplace wellness programs. She advises that when developing a wellness program, an organization should consider the needs of their employees and incentives to motivate them to participate and stay involved.

"Explaining the program early on and getting feedback from your employees about what they want to do for wellness not only promotes early buy-in, but ongoing participation," explains Keating.

Belair did just that. She spoke to her employees before starting The Insurance Source's wellness program.

"Communicating made a big difference. Everyone was on board at the onset and their feedback helped tailor the program with incentives that keep them engaged. They are really having fun with it," says Belair.

As part of the program, The Insurance Source conducted a basic health screening, including Body Mass Index, cholesterol, glucose and blood pressure. (The screenings were provided at no charge to the company through Cheshire County HEAL.) While individual data remained anonymous, the group data helped to target appropriate wellness interventions, establish achievable program goals and track progress.

Now at six months into the program, the employees are more active, drinking more water, and are eating healthier foods. They are taking daily walking breaks while Belair watches the front desk, and there is a "buzz" around the office about being 'a healthier workplace.'

"My hope is that this is just a starting point and that what we do here at the office will carry over to their home with their families and children," says Belair.


Terry Johnson, executive director of Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) NH, can be contacted at 603-415-4273 or tjohnson@healthynh.com.