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6 budget-friendly ways to reboot an employee wellness program

It's a win-win for business leaders and employees

Promoting a balance between work, health and personal life can help shape a more positive workplace with higher morale and greater productivity

The cost of healthcare to employers continues to rise — and at a faster pace. A recent Willis Towers Watson study predicted costs will increase by 5.5 percent this year, on top of the 4.6 percent increase in 2017. To combat this trend, many businesses will continue to invest in employee wellness programs and prioritize strategies that support and improve the health of their staff. But small business leaders may feel overwhelmed when it comes to implementing or redesigning a company wellness program.

While the Silicon Valley tech giants such as Google and Facebook might be at the cutting edge of innovative employee health incentives, real change isn’t out of reach or budget for businesses of any size. 

As Assistant Vice President, Global Wellbeing & Health Management at Colonial Life, I’m keen to share my tips on how small businesses can reboot their employee wellness strategies on a budget…

#1 Identify “wellness champions”

A robust wellness strategy goes miles further with strong staff buy-in. And the most effective way to drive employee engagement in wellness programs is from both the bottom up and the top down.

Backing up key health messages driven by senior management with support from “wellness champions” on the ground who are achieving their wellbeing goals is a great way to encourage greater participation. The Society for Human Resource Management reports there are promising connections between using wellness champion networks and achieving wellness program outcomes, such as the percentage of employees who participate in events or activities, or complete health risk assessments.

Establish a committee responsible for ingraining wellness into the overall company culture. Ensure your committee includes members with varying levels of seniority, ages and skillsets. This will help position it to identify and overcome specific health challenges for different demographics. Having financial expertise in your committee can also be beneficial to help steer wellness objectives, so they remain within budget.

#2 Inspire through team challenges

Sparking wellness-related challenges with a fun and friendly approach can be an effective and inexpensive way to increase staff participation.

For example, holding team fitness challenges can be a great fit for small businesses with limited budgets and less staffing wiggle room: with fewer hands, it’s vital every employee is as healthy and productive as possible. They’re also a good way to promote camaraderie and teamwork.

Smaller businesses can benefit from the craze for fitness trackers without a huge financial investment. The mobile app Walkingspree promotes fitness aspirations by encouraging people to reach step goals, either individually or as part of a group. It works by using employees’ personal fitness trackers, so it means businesses don’t have to shell out for costly gadgets. Workers who carry a smart phone can use the Health App on iPhones or the Google health app on Android devices to track steps.

Consider offering health and fitness prizes for top job performances every quarter or six months to drive business performance and healthy behavior. Fitness clothing and gear or massages are popular without breaking the budget.

#3 Get inventive

Look for low- or no-cost perks or policies you can promote to improve employee health and wellbeing. For example, with today’s “always-on” work culture contributing to employee burn-out, a policy like Vynamic’s zzzMail, bans the sending of nonurgent emails between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays and all hours on weekends or holidays.

Give back the lunch break and don’t schedule meetings during lunchtime. This is often the only time of the workday employees can take a walk, recharge their batteries or eat a healthy meal without being distracted by work.

Add some activity to your meetings by leading a movement break, at least for a couple of minutes. Better yet, have a walking meeting. For more ideas check out the Workplace Toolkit from Let’s Go.

Flexible work policies also can help improve morale and productivity while reducing stress. In a global workplace survey by Vodafone, 83 percent of respondents said adopting flexible working had resulted in improvements in productivity and 61 percent said it had helped increase company profits.

Allowing more flexible work schedules, or the opportunity for individuals to occasionally work from home if they have tight deadlines or an increased workload, can help alleviate the additional stress from commuting or staying late in the office.

#4 Make it a family affair

To drive health improvements and get maximum return on investment, wellness need to move beyond the office doors. In fact, numerous studies highlight the positive effect spousal support can have when it comes to encouraging positive behavior changes.

Include family in wellness programs by extending invitations to events, promoting positive health messages across employee social networks or setting family-specific goals to achieve together.

Ask employees if they have friends or family who are studying for a qualification in nutrition or fitness who might like to lead a class after work or during lunch for a nominal fee. It’s a win-win: the class leaders get good experience to put on their resume and your employees can enjoy a free or low-cost activity.

#5 Lean on your benefits partners or community agencies

There’s no point in putting time and money into a wellness program if it’s not delivering a good return on your investment. Your benefits partners can help support and ensure your wellness program is a success, so take advantage of their knowledge and expertise.

Many benefits carriers offer products and services beyond insurance coverage. For example, some voluntary benefits carriers offer benefits communication and education support at no additional cost as part of their services. Making sure every employee understands all the benefits available – including your wellness programs – is essential to driving strong participation.

Your benefits partners may also provide access to additional wellbeing services, such as employee assistance programs or discounts for other wellness opportunities.

Groups such as the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association have free or low-cost materials. Your local hospital may also have community outreach programs that focus on health education.

#6 Make sure your environment supports healthy behaviors

Have healthy choices in your cafeteria, vending machines and food served at meetings. Encourage healthy office potlucks. Many employees are trying to improve their nutrition or lose/maintain weight. Make it easier for them and they’ll thank you for the effort.

Promoting a culture of health, fitness and wellbeing among employees can help shape a more positive workplace with higher morale and greater productivity. That’s a win-win for your business and your employees.

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