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Good Wellness Starts From Bottom — and Top

Rising health care costs aren’t just a challenge for big companies with expansive health coverage. Small businesses are feeling the pinch of skyrocketing costs, as well. Yet many smaller employers still haven’t tapped into wellness programs to help ease the pain of year-over-year insurance increases.

A recent survey by YourWellnessAdvantage.com, a free online wellness resource, found that 28 percent of smaller companies (with 10 to 99 employees) supported wellness programs or were in the process of starting one, compared with 78 percent of companies with 100 to 2,499 employees.

While cost is always a concern for small businesses when considering a wellness initiative, the study suggests that small companies simply are unaware of the real financial benefits of wellness, said Lisa Gable, executive director of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, in a recent UPI report.

Only 20 percent of polled small businesses said they strongly agreed that wellness benefits exceed costs, compared with 38 percent of larger companies, Gable said. However, Gable cited a National Business Group on Health study that shows employers can gain as much as $3.27 for every $1 spent on wellness. “Smaller companies have an even greater stake in the health and productivity of their workforce than larger employers,” Gable said.

These programs don’t have to be expensive to be effective, especially if they are championed by employees themselves. The Atlantic Eye Institute of Jacksonville, Fla., wanted to start a wellness program but couldn’t afford an outside consultant. So, they tapped Rochelle Cordero, a staff member, to start and manage a wellness program for the entire practice, which has more than 30 employees. Cordero was excited about the program and happily took on the endeavor, according to a report by American Medical News.

Cordero took advantage of free and low-cost resources, such as The President’s Challenge, which aims to increase participants’ physical activity. She also started a smoking cessation initiative and a lunchtime walking program. Under her direction, the practice also started supplying jump ropes and weights for staffers to use during breaks.
The practice is a strong example of how a small company can use internal resources to kick-start a wellness initiative that can save employers money and improve employees’ well-being.

“Any small company can do wellness for a low cost,” Fiona Gathright, president of Wellness Corporate Solutions, told American Medical News. “This is not something that has to cost a lot of money.”

While support from the rank-and-file can elevate a wellness initiative, leadership from the employer is key to any program’s ultimate success, experts say. Take Borislow Insurance Agency Inc. in Massachusetts, an independent employee benefit advisory firm and a United Benefit Advisors member with 26 employees, which started its own wellness program to serve as an example for its clients.

The addition of a new on-site gym — including access to personal trainers — is a testament to the commitment that the firm’s leaders have made to wellness.
“We have a leadership team that supports all of our initiatives, not only financially but really participate and are in there on a daily basis encouraging us to be as healthy as we can be,” said Karen L. Kelly, the firm’s director of health and wellness, in a recent Boston Business Journal report.