business team

Starting a Small Business Wellness Program

Employee wellness programs have been around for a long time, but only more recently have they gained popularity and even media coverage… sometimes not so positively. As a small business owner seeing headlines of ‘Workers Sue Yale University Over Workplace Wellness Penalties’ it is reasonable to be skeptical about implementing this popular employee benefit for your company. 

A Brief History of Wellness

Corporate wellness programs can be traced back to the 70’s and 80’s, though their construct was much different than today’s multi-faceted wellness programs. Onsite fitness centers and biometric screenings have since been replaced by more robust programs.  

In the late 2000’s wellness became trendier even on a personal level. The invention of the Fitbit in 2007 paved the way for the gamification of wellness and access to health data for the ordinary person.  Sure, Olympic athletes and their trainers would use tracking devices and record progress over time, but not the average employee… nor their employer. Health data started becoming more interesting for employers and insurers, and subsequently at this time we saw skyrocketing wellness portals and third-party solutions entering the market. 

The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2012 strongly encouraged employers to support healthier workplaces. The ACA defined two types of wellness programs:

  • Participatory Programs – These programs provide incentives for participation, without any certain health status being met. As examples, there may be reimbursement for fitness center use, or creation of a points-based program where certain thresholds trigger rewards available to all participants. 
  • Health-Contingent Programs – These programs require individuals to meet a certain criterion in order to earn their reward. For instance, achieving a specific total cholesterol number, or decreasing/eliminating tobacco use is required to lower medical premiums. 

These definitions paved the way for the modern-day wellness programs we see today. 

As we cruised through the next decade, focus on multiple aspects of wellness became more prevalent in successful programs. Those programs who had already expanded with topics such as financial wellbeing, mental health, or community programming were better equipped to handle what none of us could have predicted in March 2020. The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in many ways, and wellness programs are no different. 

As we continue to live in this pandemic state, and look towards the future, we firmly believe in the importance of a well-rounded and robust wellness offering for employees and their families.  

Wellness cannot be a silo benefit

Our biggest piece of advice to our clients is that wellness cannot be a silo benefit. Slapping a wellness program into your benefits package to check a box is not the right way to implement this crucial and strategic employee benefit. We’ve seen a lot of companies that promoted their wellness program and claimed to want employee wellbeing, but their overall culture and management actions were at odds with this.  Promoting long hours or working through lunch is not conducive to employee wellbeing or mental health, so no matter what funds were dedicated to wellness programming, these organizations don’t find success.  

As you consider a wellness benefit, or revamping an existing one, your first step should be to take inventory of your company culture and your overall executive vision for your people. Is your senior leadership team aligned in building a great place to work? Do you believe that your employees are assets? Seeing them as intricate humans with real lives, interests, and strengths that could help your success? Or are you still viewing them as a resource… or another cog in the wheel to support your next beach house? We don’t mean to be facetious here, but these are real questions you need to ask yourself as a small business leader before moving forward. 

What next?

If you feel that you are ready to take the next step towards expanding your overall benefits offering, BlueBack Health can help. Our team can help you through the crucial planning steps and implementation of a new program, with buy-in from your management team, and excitement from your employees. 

We’ll guide you through an exploratory period where we’ll discover crucial opinions from your staff and leaders through a baseline survey to see where peoples’ interests lie, and also uncover any difficulties your culture might pose for welcoming wellness. Then we’ll work through planning and building a program that’s in alignment with your benefits strategy. Finally, we’ll roll it out to ensure all employees are informed, no matter if they work out of the main office, in the field, or remotely. Then you’re off! 

A Simple Solution for Small Businesses 

Dip your toes into employee wellness with BlueChip21, our small business wellness program. This program has quarterly entry points, reporting, and engaging programming for your employees and their families. Interested? Learn more and fill out the contact form here.