Workplace wellness programs are very popular right now. In fact, according to the 2012 Deloitte Survey of U.S. Employers, 62% planned to increase wellness and preventive health programs. But there’s a catch: The larger the employer, the more likely they’ll increase investment in employee health and wellness. While the reasons vary from organization to organization, they boil down to two simple things: time and money. Unlike employers with deep pockets and large staffs, smaller businesses just don’t have the resources to promote and support workplace wellness—or do they?

According to Carmella Sebastian, Ph.D., workplace wellness might not be as costly in terms of time or money as you believe. “During my 20-plus years in this business, I have discovered many ways to develop and institute an effective worksite wellness program without a large investment of time or money,” says Sebastian, who is a Wellness Council of America (WELCOA)-certified expert in workplace wellness. At Florida Blue, she oversees the National Committee for Quality Assurance-accredited wellness program “Better You from Blue” and manages over 300 client consultations per year.


Wellness Ideas That Work

“It’s all about getting creative with the resources in your area and finding alternatives to pricey initiatives,” Sebastian says. “And I’ve found that often the little things are just as effective as big, fancy program rollouts.”

Best of all, “bargain” wellness programs don’t only save you money on the front end—they can help your bottom line in the future. In the February 2010 issue of Health Affairs, several wellness program studies were published, revealing that medical costs fell $3.27 for every $1 spent on wellness. Furthermore, absenteeism costs fell $2.73 for every $1 spent. That represents an ROI of 6:1.

“Harder to quantify, but just as impactful, is the fact that your investment in your employees’ well-being will jump-start their morale, loyalty, and engagement—all of which is good news for their productivity and your bottom line,” she says.


1. Ask your insurance carrier for support.

If you provide health insurance for your employees, you need to tap into the resources available from your carrier. Insurers are all about health and wellness these days. After all, it’s in their best interests to keep you happy and your employees healthy, because that translates into year-after-year renewals and low claim costs.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for and take advantage of what’s available,” says Sebastian. “At the very least, your insurer should be able to provide a health risk assessment, and beyond that, most will cover the cost of having a health fair with biometrics. The labs can run through the medical claims so that should not be an extra charge.

“If your insurer isn’t willing to help with a health fair, or if you are a small employer who doesn’t offer insurance, health risk assessments are available free of charge online—and you can collate the information yourself,” she says. “Another great source is The Wellness Council of America provides all kinds of free stuff for the asking.”


2. Check with other vendors.

If you have an employee assistance program (EAP) vendor, this organization can and should assist with any behavioral health education or support. After all, that is what you pay them for.

“In the same way, your worker’s compensation provider can do a worksite ergonomics assessment and instruct your employees about lifting and twisting properly to decrease injury on the job,” says Sebastian.

Partner up with local medical organizations. Especially if you do not provide insurance, get in touch with local medical organizations and ask for assistance. Keep in mind that a health fair is nothing more than offering a health risk appraisal or questionnaire for your employees, some biometric testing (like blood pressure and height and weight), and some free educational materials.


3. Approach specialized groups for specialized help.

It may be the case that your organization is facing specific challenges. For instance, perhaps a significant percentage of your employees smoke or are overweight. Go after this low-hanging fruit by partnering with groups that specialize in addressing those issues. Often, their help can make a difference at little to no cost.

“Talk to organizations like the American Lung Association for smoking cessation programs, the American Diabetes Association, or your state’s smoking quitline,” says Sebastian. “They all offer free educational material you can use. Some will even come into your workplace and provide a lunch-and-learn program. Likewise, if you have 15 people to participate, Weight Watchers will come to your office and do a lunch program, too.”


4. Rethink incentives.

“Incentives for ‘good behavior’ do not have to be huge TVs or trips abroad,” says Sebastian. “I have seen people do remarkable things for a water bottle, t-shirt, or a special parking spot. Provide incentives that are health-focused if at all possible, like three free visits to a local gym or a healthy lunch on the company.”


5. “Committee up” for good health.

In some circles the word “committee” has a dubious reputation. But when it comes to staffing wellness programs in small companies, sharing the wealth by creating a wellness committee is the way to go. It is much better for a group of 10 to share responsibility for implementation, instead of dumping the entire task on one employee who already has a full plate.


5. Recognize success.

“Finally, once your ‘bargain’ workplace wellness initiatives start to pay off, there’s one thing you shouldn’t skimp on: celebration!” she says. “Whenever you achieve a goal, make a big deal about the achievement in order to maintain and increase morale. Recognize and publicly congratulate employees who pass milestones. Over time, you’ll create an affordable culture of wellness that’s good for your entire organization.”

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