How to Make Wellness Programs Work for Your Small Business

See the different ways you can make wellness programs work for your small business

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Workplace wellness programs have risen in popularity, and businesses are using them to help employees lose weight, eat better, and stress less

Here's what you need to know:

Fitness classes, meditation rooms, cooking demonstrations, nutrition consultations. These aren’t the perks at your local spa. It’s part of a growing trend of wellness perks businesses are offering employees to help them adopt healthy lifestyles.

Now more than ever, job seekers are looking to align their careers with companies that place a high value on health and well-being.

We know from studies that workplace wellness programs are a win-win for the employer and the employee.

Medical spending goes down, and productivity goes up.

Workers compensation claims are reduced, along with the amount of sick days taken.

Almost 70% of workers in a recent survey said they would participate in a wellness program offered at their company.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to what employers can provide. But wellness initiatives don’t have to be costly or outlandish to be effective. The challenge is to find the wellness initiatives that are right for your employees.

Creating a program that works for your team

Too often, employees are unaware of the benefits available to them. A strong wellness program begins with surveying what’s currently available, exploring ideas on how to leverage it to the employee’s advantage, and building out a program from there.

Most companies that venture into wellness dip their feet in slowly. Common first steps include:

  • Health screenings
  • Flu shots
  • Stop smoking classes
  • Gym membership subsidies

There are lots of options to build on your basic program. It starts with identifying what employees want and how to get them those products or services on demand and on budget.

You can explore options on your own, ask employees what they want or create a wellness committee. This team can look at what resources are available, what employees would be interested in (you can create a simple online survey to find out), and then brainstorm ideas to consider.

Healthy eating

One study found office food is a barrier to health for many employees.

Birthday cakes, candy dishes, and a lack of healthy options in vending machines can make it difficult for staff members to take a healthy path.

Consider birthday parties that have a smaller cake and a fruit tray option (yes, you can include chocolate dipped strawberries).

The office candy supply could be swapped out for small packs of nuts or granola bars. And vending machines could include some less calorie-heavy drinks and snacks.

If you have a cafeteria on site, another study found that simple signage helps employees make better choices. Labeling food with a green, yellow or red light denoted  healthy, less healthy, and least healthy options. That single change helped steer employees to better choices overall.

Small space savers

Many companies set aside a small space for meditation.

Others offer screaming spaces for employees to burn off frustration.

Note: If you plan on creating a primal scream room, make sure it’s sound-proof! 

Nap areas are becoming more popular, too. An afternoon siesta can help employees de-stress and feel invigorated for the rest of the day.


Look for programs and offerings that work for your staff. If they’re out in the field or performing heavy lifting all day, they probably don’t need a chance for physical exercise during the workday — although back and other worksite safety training is always needed.

For those employees chained to a desk from 8-to-5, physical activity might be the right fit to stretch and even regenerate.


Go green, literally. Bring more plants and vegetation into your workplace. Not only do they make the environment more attractive, they can improve air quality. Studies suggest they improve productivity by up to 15%.


Would employees respond to participating in walk-a-thons or marathons that support a local charity? You could provide team T-shirts that not only get employees moving, they promote your business in the community.

Your staff may be interested in creating a softball team or a mall walker crew — encourage healthy activity and offer to sponsor or help if you can.

Wellness challenges

Some businesses offer workplace challenges — with or without — incentives.

This can include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Sleeping 7 hours a night for a month
  • Losing weight
  • Lowering your cholesterol

Employee competitions can be a great motivator. These rely on coworkers to help staff members remember their goals and provide a buddy in wellness. You can even offer prizes (how about a half day off of work or a fitness tracker?).

Walk it out – or in

Can you take meetings outdoors when weather permits? Not only will employees soak up a bit of vitamin D from the sun, fresh air can promote creativity and reduce stress.

Research suggests walking meetings boost creative thinking by 60% whether indoors or out. As long as you’re not discussing anything sensitive – take that talk around the block or around the office.

Finding wellness resources externally

Insurance carriers often have wellness resources available — it’s to their benefit to help employees stay healthy. Talk with your provider to see if they can send out representatives to discuss general or specific wellness, preventative strategies or if they can offer screening events.

Type-2 diabetes screenings or heart health awareness programs can get employees motivated to make better food choices or start exercising more regularly.

Some carriers can arrange for flu shots, pneumonia, and even shingles vaccines onsite. Your plan may also include 24/7 access to nursing or stress hotlines to help employees. If you don’t have that option, consider adding it the next time you negotiate your healthcare policy. Access to nurse hotline services can reduce unnecessary ER visits, which can lower overall healthcare costs.

Tag team with local businesses

Is there a local cooking school or nutrition store in your area? They might be interested in coming to your facility to show employees how to prepare healthy meals or look for healthier substitutes when cooking or snacking.

Local gyms and personal trainers are often interested in worksite visits as well. These businesses may increase their customer base while you boost wellness at your organization. You may even be able to negotiate employee discounts for products or services.

Mental health

When it comes to overall wellness, don’t forget mental health — as important as physical well-being. Again, your insurance carrier may have programs available that can be brought onsite to help employees with stress management or they can provide you with information that promotes mental health services available to staff.

If your workplace generates a lot of stress (and whose doesn’t?) a local yoga or meditation studio might be interested in an onsite class or demonstrations to de-stress and re-center.

Again, they earn potential customers while you improve overall wellness. Try to negotiate discounts for employees who take their classes outside of work, as well.

Financial incentives help, too

Employee savings accounts are another area business can help promote wellness. When staff members put funds into their flexible spending account for medical products and services they’re reminded to use those funds during the benefit year.

This can be the trigger that gets that re-test for new glasses or other health services they might neglect. Of course there’s a financial incentive to offering flex spending accounts for business and workers — a reduction of their gross income reduces payroll taxes for them and you.

If you’re footing the bill for any wellness programs or equipment, you may be eligible for tax credits as well.

If you chip in or reimburse employees for co-payments for gym memberships, stop smoking clinics, health education seminars, or other programs or products (like those fitness trackers) offered as a benefit to staff, you may be able to deduct those costs.

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