If you’re having trouble convincing small employers of the value of health and wellness programs, findings from a new study from the National Small Business Association and Humana may help.

The study, fielded this summer to more than 1,000 small business owners, reveals that three out of four employers that have implemented health and wellness programs have realized a positive impact on their bottom line. Two-thirds (67%) say offering programs that help keep employees healthy would be the best health-related option received by employees, versus only 17% who favor allocating more sick days.

Support for health and wellness programs is highest among small business startups, the survey shows. Sixty-five percent stated that wellness programs are worth the investment, and 31% have already adopted such programs.

Nearly 50% of startups see health and well-being as important to recruitment and retention. Owners note that their employees, many of them younger, actually prefer and pursue such offerings. Firms in operation less than five years had the highest offer rate at 34%, compared with just 19% of companies that have been in existence for 15 years or longer.

Overall, however, the study shows that the number of small businesses with health and wellness programs in place is still low. Those with between 10 and 100 employees had an offer rate of 27%; those with 2 to 9 employees were not far behind larger companies with 20%.

 Implementation roadblocks

 Why is it that the majority of small employers still have not added a health and wellness initiative to their benefits package? According to more than half of the survey respondents, one of the primary reasons is that there is a lack of health and wellness information directed specifically at small businesses.

 This represents an opportunity for advisers, NSBA and Humana suggest.

 “Wellness solutions likely will be an increasingly important part of the employee value proposition,” says Jerry Ganoni, president of Humana’s Small Business Division. “It will be crucial for the industry to focus on providing small-business owners with the information they need to make the wellness decisions necessary to recruit and retain employees while making an a meaningful impact on their bottom lines.”

Top concerns

For example, an overwhelming 93% of the respondents consider their employees’ physical and mental health to be important to their financial results, but only one-third expressed confidence in their ability to help employees manage their well-being.

Another key factor driving the low offer rate of wellness programs in small business is a lack of employee interest. Close to half (46%) businesses surveyed say lack of interest was the key barrier to implementing a wellness program, followed by 21% of owners who pointed to difficulty to administer such programs.

“Some of the more surprising results we found showed that the smallest businesses--those with two to nine employees--actually placed greater emphasis on wellness and expressed higher confidence in their ability to manage a wellness program than larger businesses,” the report authors state.

The survey findings also indicate that small employers are particularly worried about employee stress and its impact on health and productivity. Indeed, concern over stress was three times that of any other category. Forty-two percent say stress is their greatest concern, followed by psychological well-being (13%), weight management (11%), alcohol or other drug habits (11%) and smoking (9%). Fifteen percent had no answer.

“Understanding this issue and incorporating stress-management into wellness offerings will be an important consideration for small business owners moving forward,” the survey sponsors maintained.

 “This study reveals a unique set of concerns and challenges small-business owners face to make employee wellness a reality particularly in today’s tough business environment,” comments Todd McCracken, NSBA president and CEO. “This new information shows that small businesses seek better information to make health and wellness a reality for small businesses. Workplace wellness programs can play a role in making quality affordable health care accessible for small-business owners and their employees.”

The study defined health and wellness programs as initiatives aimed at encouraging employees to make healthier choices such as getting preventative care, eating right and exercising. It was conducted by third-party research vendor, Edelman Berland, between late June and July, 2012. The margin of error on the overall sample is +/-3.1%.

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