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Wellness in Small Businesses: Obstacles and Opportunities

This post was written by Kira McCoy. 

While reading this post, you’re likely sitting down, staring into a glowing rectangular screen. How long has it been since you’ve gotten up to walk, stretch, or have a healthy snack? With such busy workdays, wellness often slips to the end of our to-do lists. Workplace health has been on the forefront of my mind, especially with the publication of an article I wrote with co-authors from the Colorado School of Public Health.

In the literature review, I found Americans spend 54% of our time at work,1 which means the workplace is an important place to look when we want to improve health. For large companies (greater than 500 employees), wellness programs can:

  • Increase employee happiness
  • Boost productivity
  • Save the company money on insurance premiums

When researching the topic, I found a lack of rigorous research assessing health promotion in smaller companies — yet 89% of U.S. workplaces have fewer than 20 employees!2 We need further investigation on how to create effective, long-term programs that are utilized by everyone from unpaid interns to CEOs.

Larger companies are good at providing programs, such as yoga classes, smoking cessation support, and bike-to-work events. For small businesses, it’s much harder to gather the finances, staff time, and resources. Other challenges include lack of management support, uncertain return-on-investment, and difficulty evaluating programs.

Despite these obstacles, smaller companies have unique opportunities to improve employee health. There’s less bureaucracy, greater personal accountability, and a higher potential for teambuilding within a small workplace.

Here at CommunicateHealth, we strive to create a healthy work environment (it’s in our name after all). We have flexible hours to accommodate exercise, seltzer water in the fridge, walking meetings, and Jawbone’s Up24 bands given as holiday bonuses.

Yet these steps and others haven’t been rigorously studied in small businesses. We can’t assume they are effective when many research studies lack control groups, use convenience samples, and rely on self-report for data collection. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 provides technical assistance for small businesses to offer wellness programs and suggests incentives for participation.3 This federal law reinforces the urgent need for more rigorous research.

In the meantime, start brainstorming with your colleagues about your ideal healthy workplace. We did some brainstorming of our own — check out these sketches by CommunicateHealth staff about “what a healthy workspace looks like” for inspiration!

Drawing of a healthy workplace kitchen full of organic tea and a sign for group lunches

Healthy workplace kitchen

break room with a treadmill, yoga ball and matt, weights, fruit for snacking, games, and natural light.

Healthy breakroom

Drawing of a healthy office: computer playing music, no telephone, big plants, and lots of natural light

Healthy workspace


Here are a few resources for promoting health in your small business:



1 The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. American time use survey. 2010. Available at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/atus 06222011.pdf. Accessed December 23, 2013

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Small Business Resource Guide, Fast Facts. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/smbus/guide/guide-1.html. Accessed June 26, 2014.

3 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act , P.L. (March 23, 2010). Technical Assistance for Employer-based Wellness Programs. Sec. 4303


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