Business of Well-being

Wellness for Small Business - It's Possible, Stop Saying No and Start Saying Yes!

In terms of wellness, small businesses may not have the financial resources, knowledge of wellness or how to offer it to the employees, but it doesn't mean it's not possible, it just means their offerings just may be somewhat different than their larger counterparts, but definitely possible.

Actually, what is becoming a pet peeve of mine is how quick some representatives in small businesses are saying no to even the idea of offering wellness for the employees. Here are the most common "excuses" I get from small businesses as to why they THINK they cannot have any wellness in their workplace:

Excuse #1: "We're just not there yet." Not there yet? What does that mean? This leads to Excuses #2 and #3.

Excuse #2: "We just don't have the money right now." How do they know how much money they need? I asked - they don't know.

Excuse #3: "We're just not ready for that." What do you have to do to be ready? I asked - they don't really know.

Excuse #4: "We just use our health benefits." Is that good enough for all the employees? How many employees take advantage of these benefits? I asked - they don't know.

Excuse #5: "We have a health club subsidy and that's what we use." How many employees are using and benefiting from this? I asked - they don't know. Do you see the patterns here? These company representatives, whether they are the office manager, director, in reception, HR, or another department, have common misconceptions that a company needs to be in a certain "place" to have wellness in their workplace - whether it's financial, a certain preparedness, or otherwise.

Further, these representatives do not seem to know a lot about what benefits employees are taking advantage of, if they are being offered any at all; if they are happy or unhappy with their offerings; or what wellness initiatives would make their lives easier, happier, and more manageable.

However, with the excuses, how quick they are to be given and how quickly these reps seem to just want off the phone, I can't help but wonder if they realize how important they are and what they are really saying no to. These decision-makers of wellness are crucial because you are speaking not only for the benefits of all employees; you are also speaking for the bottom line, and benefit, of the business.

In my opinion, many of the decision-makers seem to undervalue their position in their decision, the wellness benefits, and what they are missing by saying no. According to, 98 percent of Canadian businesses are small businesses, equivalent to 1,116,423.

Further, these small businesses accounted for $68 billion in exports, and in 2009, 28 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) came from businesses with fewer than 50 employees. According to, there are 28 million small businesses in the United States, accounting for 97 percent of all businesses.

The total revenues (from non-employers) were $989.6 billion in 2011. These are just a few of many statistics. We can still conclude that, in North America, small businesses are crucial to its economy and we must do what we can to allow our economy to grow and not hinder it.

As I will prove below, because of the benefits, you must include wellness in the workplace as part of your business strategy to be competitive in today's economy. The following are benefits of wellness initiatives that apply to any workplace, big or small, that some business reps are perhaps unknowingly saying no to, and all involved are then missing:

  • Increasing productivity and efficiency
  • Decreasing anxiety, tension, and stress
  • Improving mental health
  • Enhancing creativity and communication
  • Promoting a team building attitude
  • Improving work/life balance
  • Improving absenteeism rates and presenteeism
  • Fewer chronic injuries/illnesses
  • Fewer worker compensation and health claims
  • Promoting overall health and well being
  • Can motivate smokers to quit which translates into fewer company costs
  • Improving the business bottom line

What makes all of these incredible benefits even MORE irresistible is that you don't just benefit at work. These benefits naturally translate into your personal life so your family and friends benefit too from a healthy and happier you! Going back to the dreaded excuses - the truth, and what you need to know, is there is no ideal place to be, you don't have to have a huge budget, and only providing a health benefits package or a health club subsidy for your employees in your workplace is not going to benefit everyone, even though they are great offerings - better than nothing.

There are even more reasons to say yes! A few of the health costs of saying no to wellness in your workplace, according to the IAPA Business Case for a Healthy Workplace, are  2-3 times the mental health problems, 5 times certain cancers, 2-3 times the injuries, 3 times the risk of heart problems, 3 times the back pain, and 2-3 times the amount of conflicts.

There are, of course, associated financial costs of saying no to wellness. The National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, released by the Canadian Standards Association, the Bureau de normalization du Quebec, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), states the impact of mental health issues (stress, anxiety, depression, and others) on lost productivity and employee turnover alone was estimated at $6.4 billion in 2011 and that number is estimated to grow to $16 billion by 2041, according to the MHCC.

The Conference Board of Canada determined absenteeism costs the Canadian economy at least $7.4 billion per year in direct costs. The indirect costs such as lost productivity and bringing in extra help added in, the total cost is closer to $37 billion per year. The above are just small droplets of water in the very large pool of wellness statistics.

This entire article could be filled with statistics but I think we all get the idea here - unhealthy employees not only cost their employers money but they also cost the economy. You can bet unhealthy employees similarly cost the American economy as well. (Are you saying yes yet?) Some common issues, and hot topics, in North America is our aging population, increasing chronic illness and injury, and how it relates to wellness in the workplace.

More than 80 percent of businesses recognize the issues of our aging workforce but less than half are proactively planning for them. The older population is crucial to your business because they enhance productivity and competition. As the growth rate of the workforce (ages 15-64 years old) slows or decreases, now and in the future, taking advantage of the full potential of older workers becomes necessary to continue to grow your bottom line and gross domestic product.

The increasing cases of chronic disease have become one of the most important current health issues. Many chronic diseases, such as type 2 Diabetes, are preventable. Many injuries are also preventable. Injuries result from unsafe environments, conditions and behaviors.

Forward-looking companies are using innovations and incorporating workplace wellness programs to turn these issues into manageable solutions. It's no wonder why more and more employers are implementing wellness programs and viewing wellness as even part of their overall business strategy.

The common "excuses," as I call them, are not completely invalid, however. A full comprehensive wellness program may not make sense for a small business. However, small businesses can offer so many wellness options their employees.

If you want to start a wellness initiative for your small business, in order to make any effort successful, you must do the following:

  • First, get approval for your initiative and a promise of participation from the CEO, or the head(s) of your organization. It's crucial they set an example and employees see their participation.
  • Assign a wellness leader or committee, depending on the size of your small business, (person or people that are well liked, leaders, and those that are personally committed to a healthy lifestyle so they can motivate others).
  • Since employee input is crucial in wellness success, survey them on their wellness interests.
  • Provide health screenings or at least encourage them to be completed by offering rewards.
  • Provide lunch and learns on various nutrition and well being topics (i.e. stress) from professionals so they can provide your staff with current and accurate information, and great future ideas for your staff.

So now, you have done the initial wellness tasks, preparing yourselves for better health and wellness, and business success. Now what? There are some inexpensive wellness ideas that are also easy to implement without the cost of an outside wellness provider. You can:

  • Use gamification techniques (using game mechanics in non-game settings) for a healthier, happier, and more engaged workforce (i.e. using pedometers, create a challenge for most steps in one week where leaderboards are used to encourage healthy competition). Rewards can simply be the satisfaction of "winning." Poll employees to find out what challenges and/or contests in which they will be excited to participate.
  • Put policies, visible in the workplace, stating that your company cares about their employees; you are committed to taking care of their well being - physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially; have a non-smoking policy.
  • Healthy recipe swap/contest: use email to engage your employees and to promote a healthy lifestyle. Alternatively, have a contest where recipes are tried at home and employees can vote on the best recipes, voted by their families, and the winner perhaps receives a gift card for a restaurant or a family movie.
  • If you have vending machines, offer all, or primarily, healthy options.
  • For meetings or other occasions where you may have catered meals, offer all, or primarily all, healthy options.
  • Provide employees with fast-food information.
  • Start a company wellness newsletter.
  • Take advantage of wellness designations (i.e. Healthy Workplaces Week) as reasons to incorporate wellness at work.

One suggestion that you may have to pay for is a Smoking Cessation Program. Smoking employees are unhealthy and cost your company money. As a 25-year ex-smoker, I am proud to be soon conducting our own Program to encourage others to quit. Therefore, if you take the crucial steps for wellness success and incorporate some inexpensive wellness ideas, you can now say you have some wellness in your workplace!

Congratulations! Is it as expensive or difficult as you thought? When you start your own wellness initiative, and you run it for a while, ask yourself if it was worth it. I bet the answer is an absolute yes! One more thing, even if you think there is no budget - take the time to set aside some sort of budget for wellness.

Employees can also share in costs - if it saves them time and money, and they are interested in the offer, they are likely to go for it. Another tip - if you are in close proximity to other businesses or you are in an office building, you can share costs with other businesses so you all save and all benefit.

For some more motivation, a small business success story from Noel MacKay of the Williamson Group credits their wellness program with employee satisfaction and low turnover. "We have people who've been here 10 years or more. Wellness programming is something we intuitively know helps us."

They also reduced employee at-risk cholesterol levels by 21 percent with health risk assessments. For the office administrator, or the HR representative, or whoever may be approached about wellness in your workplace, at the very least, accept good information - it costs you nothing and knowledge is everything.

There is too much is riding on your answer to say no too fast. With all of this talk about benefits and possibilities, I can't even remember what the reasons are for small businesses saying no to wellness, can you? Now you can start a wellness initiative on your own. For maximum benefits and consultations, contact an external wellness provider for more information.

About the Author

Elana Magen owns and Operates Executive Exercise, which provides workplace wellness programs in Toronto, Ontario Canada. After some experience in the wellness industry, while still servicing businesses of all sizes, we are now focusing on small businesses where is there is a strong wellness need.

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