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Employee Wellness Programs & Small Business

With the changes the Affordable Care Act has set in motion, companies of all sizes are focusing more and more on wellness and prevention in the workplace, according to HealthCare.gov. For fitness professionals, this represents an opportunity to position and promote services to a larger market.

These days, large companies are not alone in putting into place employee wellness programs. Smaller businesses are beginning to pick up the pace. And while they may not make headlines like "the big guys", small businesses account for the majority of privately held companies in the United States; nearly 8 out of 10 businesses employ fewer than 10 workers. For such businesses, missing just one employee due to frequent sick days or an extended leave of absence can quickly manifest itself in losses of productivity as well as a decline in staff morale, as co-workers are forced to cover the position's duties.

In the past, the concept of workplace wellness programs was largely identified with large corporations. But that picture could be changing as more and more small companies begin realizing the benefits of offering wellness programs to their employees. In 2014, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 will give offer an extra push when it gives employers an increased ability to reward employees who meet health status goals by participating in wellness programs. According to a case study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a company-wide employee wellness program can save an organization $2.43 for every dollar spent. Employees reap health benefits of lower stress levels and improved energy while the company reaps the benefits of a healthier and more productive staff.

Employee Wellness Programing: One Size Does Not Fit All

One size program does not fit all businesses, but the main features shared by any wellness program should include:

  • A means to identify risk factors. This can be accomplished by a number of methodologies, but it will stay private the employee and the data gatherer. The employer is not privy to this information.
  • Recommendations to reduce risk factors. This may be generalized, or they may be tailored an individual to the employee, if they are arrived through online systems or by consultation with a healthcare provider.
  • Biological statistics. Some programs augment a health risk assessment with a basic health profile including body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, glucose levels, etc.
  • Setting goals and incentives. This is a must as it establishes both a starting point and a benchmark or benchmarks for the individual. Incentives can be offered for achieving a goal, or if the goal is not shared with the employer for privacy purposes, an incentive can be still be provided for taking steps that would generally lead to that goal.
  • Employee Participation. This is obvious, but it shouldn't be overlooked. Any wellness program will be only as effective as a company's workforce allows.
  • Available support. Here, it is useful to know employees preferences in how they receive their information, whether it be online, in print, or in a face-to-face dialog.
  • A commitment by management. We've all heard that successful managers lead by example, and that holds especially true for company-sponsored wellness programs.

Above all, an employee wellness program should be practical and address a company's needs, its budget, and its logistical constraints. For small businesses, this might be as simple as organizing a lunch and learn series or scheduling noon-time walks. Other programing features to consider include one-on-one coaching, on-site exercise programs, online support for elements such as exercising and nutrition, and incentivizing preventive care and/or desired behaviors.

In putting together their offerings, fitness professionals who might have focused on larger companies should be prepared to be flexible with small businesses. This could mean offering an a la carte program, or adapting a more comprehensive program for scalability to a smaller number of employees.

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