In a recent National Small Business Association survey, 93% of all decision-makers responded that the health and wellness of their employees is important to their bottom line. Of that group, 60% stated that employee health and wellness is worth the investment. The top health concern was high-stress levels, followed by psychological well-being, weight management, and alcohol or other drug habits. Staggering numbers considering only 22% of responses stated having a small business wellness program in place. What’s going on with small business health and wellness?

Small businesses account for about 4.6 million employees — an estimated 31% of working Canadians. Brigham Young University researchers found that employees with unhealthy diets are 66% more likely to report a loss in productivity; i.e., an increase in sick days taken.

All of the statistics paint an overwhelming picture for small business owners looking to improve the health and wellness of their teams. Realistically, how can a small business go big on health and wellness programs?


Related reading: How to Design an Effective Employee Wellness Program


Start from the top down

The job of any leader worth their salt is to inspire and motivate team members to push beyond what they believe is possible. Great leaders lead by example and inspire people around them to be better. Steve Jobs inspired his teams to ‘Think Different’. Elon Musk inspires technological innovation. Bill Gates inspires humanitarianism and empathy. It’s easy to do the talking, but great leaders also do the walking.

The same lead-by-example approach should be applied to small business wellness programs. The CEO shapes the culture of the company from day one. Do they value healthy food choices? Or is the kitchen stocked with chips and soda? Do they allow staff to enjoy breaks outdoors? Or is leaving the office looked down upon? Are health-related purchases subsidized by the business? Or is every individual responsible for their own physical activities? A culture of health and wellness must be ingrained into the ethos of a company to have any significant impact.

If you’re leading your office towards a healthier and happier environment, then start with yourself. Start making healthier choices when you’re in the office and others will follow. Go for a walk during lunch and invite coworkers to join you. Put out healthy snacks in the morning and afternoon for everyone to enjoy. Make small changes to your everyday routine and others will take notice.

Define success

What does a successful small business wellness program look like to you? Is it a decrease in the number of sick days? Is it office-wide pickup basketball games at lunch? Or is it ultimately less health insurance costs for your company? A plan without a goal isn’t effective because goals can be tracked and progress is clear. To begin creating a small business wellness program, define what success means to you.

Harvard Business Review recommends developing, “an evaluation plan at the start of a program so that useful baseline data collection can occur and be monitored over time.” Johnson & Johnson, for example, has published numerous academic reports over decades on its wellness and prevention programs which show improved employee health, millions in benefits savings, and an improvement in workers’ productivity. This is all possible because of thorough data monitoring and collection.

Experiment often

Everyone has their own favourite way to stay active. While some prefer to go for a run outdoors, others might prefer an indoor spin class. When encouraging or organizing physical activities, it’s important to experiment with different activities to see what creates positive or negative reactions.

Part of the fun is discovering what wellness activities suit the culture you’ve help build. Here at Rise, our People and Culture Coordinator Kristin Smerchanski keeps things energetic with themed days of the week along with games and contests that engage even the office introverts. When asked about how small businesses can experiment, Kristin says, “due to their size, working in a small business can create a false feeling of closeness. Take time to engage your employees personally and ask about their health and wellness goals. Do they want to eat healthier? Stock the kitchen with fresh fruits and vegetables. Would they like to see more group fitness activities? Plan some lunchtime yoga or a running club. Helping your employees live more happy, healthy, and stress-free benefits everyone.”

There’s no right or wrong way to build a health and wellness program. Start with what your employees are motivated by, provide education around the topic, and hold them accountable in some format for their success. A friendly competition, for example, is a great way to hold people accountable while keeping it fun.

Get feedback

Effective learning is based on effective feedback. The only way to tailor a health and wellness program for your business is to receive feedback from employees on what is and what isn’t working. Like with any new program or initiative, it requires a period of testing and experimentation. Remember, you’re tracking as much as you can as the program develops. Having a plan for collecting feedback from your employees is an integral part of the program.

Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or even an anonymous Slack channel are HR friendly apps to help you collect anonymous employee feedback.  

Rise’s People and Culture Coordinator Kristin suggests to, “sit down with individuals and really listen to what they have to say. Learn about their motivations, needs, and wants and follow up with ‘why?’ or ‘how would that make a difference for you?’, it can really open up space for great conversation!”


Related reading: How to Run a Workplace Wellness Challenge Your Employees Will Love


Wrapping up

If you’re reading this article, then you’ve already taken the first step to improving the health and wellness of your small business. When people are healthier, they’re happier. It’s scientifically proven.

For a small business with limited resources, a health and wellness program doesn’t have to break the bank. Start small but start with a plan. If you’re the leader, start with yourself — from the top down. Define what a successful small business wellness program looks like to you to have something to aim for. That way, you can track your progress. Experiment often; everyone has their own favourite way to stay active. Once you’re off and running, remember to continuously request feedback from employees to keep the lines of communication open.

How are you improving the health and wellness of your employees? What are some cost-effective ways to engage employees? How about collecting feedback? Join the discussion with us on social media @RiseofPeople.

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