The Impact of Workplace Wellness Programs for Small Businesses

November 20, 2012

I recently interviewed Molly Brogan, vice president of public affiars at the National Small Business Association (NSBA). We discussed the findings of a recent study that NSBA and Humana conducted,  Workplace Wellness Programs in Small Businesses: Impacting the Bottom Line. The study aims to uncover health and wellness needs and barriers facing small businesses in today’s post-recession business recovery.

Why did the NSBA and Humana Inc. decide to do this study?

Both Humana and NSBA have been long-time proponents of the benefits of wellness programs for all businesses. Specifically, we saw a need for better information on how wellness programs can impact small business. There was virtually no concrete data outlining how wellness programs help small business, how small businesses view wellness programs and what the key hurdles are to small businesses wishing to provide a wellness program. Humana, one of the nation’s leading health care companies and leader when it comes to workplace wellness programs, sought out and partnered with NSBA as an ideal partner for this survey because of the organization’s background and expertise on small-business issues such as health care.

What are some of the key findings?

  • Fifty-eight percent of businesses said there is not enough information available to small businesses about implementing wellness programs.
  • Among those who currently have a health and wellness program, 78 percent believe it has a positive impact on their company’s bottom line.  
  • Overall, 60 percent of small-business owners believe that employee health and wellness programs are worth the investment, while 85 percent of those that currently have health and wellness programs agree they are worth the investment. 
  • Less than one-quarter of small businesses (22 percent) currently have health and wellness programs.   
  • Younger companies (less than 10 years) – are more likely than those older than 10 years to offer health and wellness programs (31 percent vs. 20 percent).  
  • Larger small business – those with 50-100 employees – had a higher rate (27 percent) of offering a health and wellness program while the smallest companies, those with 2 – 9 employees, had an offer rate of 20 percent.
  • Nearly all (93 percent) small business decision-makers say the health of their employees is important to the bottom line.
  • Although small businesses believe the health of their employees is important to the bottom line, only one-third (35 percent) feel confident in their abilities to help their employees manage their own health and wellness. 
  • Twenty-five percent of those who currently have a health and wellness program and 36 percent of those who do not say the top motivator for implementing health and wellness programs is lower health care costs in the long term. Improved morale and increased productivity came in second and third.

What was the most surprising finding?

There were a few – first, firms in operation less than five years had the highest offer rate at 34 percent – this was higher than the larger small businesses.

Second, more than two-fifths (42 percent) say their top concern about employee well-being is high stress levels. We believe that employee morale plays a significant role in how employers perceive employee wellness and stress levels contribute significantly.

Another interesting finding was that nearly half (46 percent) of all small businesses surveyed said lack of interest was the key barrier to implementing a wellness program, followed by 21 percent of small-business owners who pointed to difficulty to administer such programs.

Considering data and findings from past research, how much has changed in the health and wellness sector for small businesses and what do you attribute this change to?

The perception has always been that health and wellness programs’ should focus on issues such as weight loss, smoking cessation and other key health-related issues that are typically drivers of health insurance costs. While those are important to small businesses, this survey shows that stress is a growing issue.

This survey also found that nearly half of small businesses (43 percent) say that their employees take “few” sick days, and that more than half, (57 percent) say their employees work when they are sick. Small businesses are affected more than large businesses when one employee is out sick, so wellness is very important to small-business owners.

While this isn’t necessarily something that has changed, it’s worth noting that small-business owners are not unlike their larger counterparts in that the bottom line drives their decision making. When asked to rank their biggest motivators in implementing a wellness program, lower long-term health costs was ranked number one by both those firms who have a wellness program and those that do not. Improved morale and increased productivity came in second and third.

There is a significant difference in how employers view wellness programs based on whether or not they have one: among those who never had a wellness program, just 35 percent believe a wellness program would positively impact their bottom line. Among those businesses currently offering a wellness program, 78 percent believe the program positively impacts their bottom line.

Based on the report findings, what are the next steps for NSBA and Humana?

NSBA will continue pushing for pro-small business policies, particularly those that make it easier and more affordable for small firms to implement wellness programs. We also will work with Humana in providing educational tools to our members about the importance of wellness programs. Humana has made wellness a priority and they are actively reaching out to small businesses—partially through their partnership with NSBA—to provide information and resources to help small businesses in establishing a wellness program.