The Small Business Case for Wellness Initiatives
Small and mid-size businesses make up approximately 99 percent of U.S. employer firms. However, they have had to wait the longest for access to healthcare coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) under the ACA or do not have the monetary ability to devote toward a small group health plan.
Additionally, more and more companies are experiencing a workforce that is more diverse and includes more generations of workers than ever before. Employers are also faced with the responsibility of managing cultural considerations, safety and accident prevention procedures, workers compensation benefits, and the list goes on and on.
So small business owners may be asking what they need to do to help themselves and their employees. And is a Wellness Program really part of the solution? There is compelling evidence that suggests the answer is, “YES.” A quick look at several cultural and socio-economic factors clearly shows why organizations need to help get employees fit and healthy.
People are living longer than ever before and working well into their advanced years. In fact, according to the Transamerica 16th Annual Retirement Study, 64% of 60+ year-olds plan to retire after age 65 and 18% plan not to retire at all. Medical advancements have lead to the early detection of many diseases that in the past would have caused mortality. It’s become essential therefore, that organizations are equipped to care for all their employees through each stage of their working career.
The big-picture of the U.S.’s national health is not necessarily a pretty one either. According to America’s Health Rankings April 2016 Spotlight: Impact of Unhealthy Behaviors Report, more than 70% of adults in the United States have at least one of the following unhealthy behaviors: smoking, excessive drinking, insufficient sleep, physical inactivity, and obesity. Additionally more than 25 million or 12% have three or more unhealthy behaviors.
Studies are finding these trends represented throughout unhealthy workforces as well. A 2015 study by the Colorado School of Public Health with over 250 small businesses found that one third of their employees were overweight, one-quarter were obese, one-fifth reported depression, and another fifth had chronic fatigue. Additionally, the study notes that approximately three quarters of large companies offered wellness programs compared to only one third of small businesses.
Healthy Employees’ Business Impact
The Work Foundation’s Health at Work Policy Unit reports that this occurs because of a number of factors such as, small businesses’ lack of resources and time or system incompatibilities to implement a workplace wellness program. Small and mid-size companies that struggle with facilitating employer-led health initiatives need to take into account the contribution of healthy employees and their impact on productivity.
Yes, poor health takes approximately $576 billion annually out of the U.S. economy, according to Integrated Benefits Institute data. With 39 percent of that being attributed to lost productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism.
So what can small and mid-size businesses do? First, they need to establish a clear business case for the development of a wellness program. Companies need to understand how improving their health offerings through wellness initiatives can be a wise investment. Next, they need to asses their resources and determine if they have the capabilities to develop, implement and manage a program. This step may be where the process stops for many organizations because they don’t have the internal resources.
However, sustained interest in wellness initiatives makes sense as small businesses look for ways to demonstrate worker value and retain top talent. Looking long-term employers will see the value of wellness offerings as their workforce continues to change and age and an emphasis is needed on keeping employees healthy and fit to reduce absenteeism and the cost of injury over the life of the business.