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The vast majority of Canadians work for companies with fewer than 100 employees. “Canada is a nation of small businesses,” says workplace culture consultant Graham Lowe.

Can a small business support workplace wellness? Absolutely! In fact, in some ways it is easier to create a healthy workplace in a small company than in a large corporation.

Limited resources, especially in small companies, can prevent an employer from setting up a workplace wellness program. Reasons can include:

  •  lack of budget resources;
  • lack of staff;
  • lack of senior-level support;
  • little knowledge of the wellness concept and;
  • concern about making wellness available to all employees.

According to the Wellness Councils of America, some small business owners may have the wrong idea of what is involved in having a workplace wellness program. Some employers aren’t sure a program would really work and others feel that trying to change personal lifestyle behaviours is intruding and “none of their business”.  Perhaps they don’t understand that it doesn’t need to be costly and that they don’t need special staff. They may not realize that some staff would like to see some healthy changes and would help make things happen in their workplace.


It Can Be Done

Many small businesses have found ways to have a workplace wellness program that works for them. They keep the cost and effort to a minimum and still have results that are positive for everyone. In 2006, Graham Lowe wrote a report on the best places to work in Calgary. He said that healthy workplaces often have a “positive workplace culture”.  In a workplace with a positive culture, people feel appreciated, valued, and trusted. 

Dr. Lowe says it is easier for a small workplace to have a positive workplace culture than for a large workplace. Many employees prefer to work for a small business, he says, because it provides more opportunities to work closely with others and develop a sense of community.

In his report, Dr. Lowe says the most successful companies with fewer than 100 employees have:

  • excellent employee benefits;
  • policies that promote a balance between work and personal life;
  • flexible schedules;
  • competitive salaries;
  • excellent leadership with an emphasis on teamwork;
  • environmentally responsible company policies;
  • procedures for seeking employee input; and
  • a focus on placing employees’ personal well-being ahead of the personal gain of company leaders.

All or most of these elements are also components of a good workplace wellness program.


Tips and Ideas

There are many ways to include health and wellness in a small business. You don’t necessarily need a wellness professional or a fancy gym. What you do need is support from management and a committee of a few committed people. Here are some ideas that your workplace can consider.

Communications and Promotion

  • Send out a regular “wellness” newsletter in hard copy or online. Or send out a simple message such as the weekly Healthy U Hot Tip.
  • Use promotions that are already designed such as Healthy Workplace Week.

Active Living and Healthy Eating

  •  Encourage staff to sign up for the Stairway to Health stair climbing competition.
  • Get pedometers for employees and track their steps.
  • Rent a nearby school or community gym and offer exercise classes.
  • Hire a local fitness instructor to give classes or lead stretch breaks. Costs can be shared with employees.
  • Install secure bike parking.
  • Serve healthy alternatives at company meetings and lunches.

Policy and Organizational Initiatives

  • Hire an ergonomics specialist to assess workstations.
  • Develop policies to support work-life balance (for example, mandatory vacations, flextime, limits to work and e-mail on personal time).
  • Provide a wellness subsidy for a variety of health and leadership activities and courses.
  • Offer financial incentives to be healthy.
  • Offer wellness incentives as rewards and recognition for a job well done.
  • Conduct an organizational health audit (NQI Healthy Workplace Week).
  • Become a partner with the community (for example, daycare, gyms, festivals, parks, restaurants).
  • Spread the workload. Set up a wellness committee.

Small businesses may not have a lot of time, money, or human resources available for a workplace wellness program. But they often have a huge advantage over large companies—a positive workplace culture. That is a great foundation for a workplace wellness program. When employees are satisfied, enjoy their work environment, they are more productive, and tend to be healthier.  With a little creativity and passion, small businesses can develop successful workplace wellness programs. Get support from management, form a committee of two or more and discover the possibilities!


Learn More

Healthy Workplace Week
Ideas to help celebrate healthy workplace week along with resources that can be used all year round.

National Quality Institute – Healthy Workplace for Small Organizations
A 10-point criteria and self-evaluation tool designed for organizations with fewer than 100 employees can be ordered for a fee. The criteria and review methods are designed to help organizations focus on good practices for workplace health and target specific improvements that are attainable with available resources.

Stairway to Health
A Health Canada resource that provides fact sheets, tools, and resources to set up and evaluate a stair-climbing program, as well as information on how to address barriers, and make stairways attractive and safe.

Workplace Health Promotion Project
Resources from the Centre for Health Promotion (University of Toronto), include:

  • Introduction to Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion;
  • Influencing the organization Environment to Create Healthy Workplaces;
  • Well-Regarded Initiatives for Workplace Health and Promotion; and
  • Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion:  Recommended and Promising Practices for Situational Assessment Tools
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