How to Start a Workplace Wellness Program on a Budget

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When you’re busy running your business, it can be easy to forget the importance of healthy eating, exercise, and stress management for yourself and your employees. Before you know it, your employees are trying to meet deadlines while running on coffee, doughnuts, fast-food lunches, and junk from a vending machine. Workplace wellness programs bring the focus back to good health and have been shown to benefit both employees and employers. But how, exactly?

As reported in the 2015 survey Exploring the Value Proposition for Workforce Health, by the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), 90 percent of business owners say that promoting wellness can affect employee productivity and performance. Furthermore, research reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) has shown that wellness programs reduce sick-leave absenteeism by 27 percent and health care costs by 26 percent.

Healthy employees will reduce costs for employers and can produce better work.The problem many businesses face is implementing a wellness program on a budget. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Budget Wellness Program Ideas

Healthy Eating

  • Make healthy snacks available in common areas to encourage healthy eating. Not only can this improve mood and aid in weight control, but it can also boost energy, which may lead to increased productivity. Having a bowl of apples, pears, bananas, oranges, and other seasonal fruit like peaches, berries, and grapes around the office gives employees an accessible healthy option. Furthermore, keep snacking veggies in the fridge, such as baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli florets. It’s easy to order these and schedule weekly or daily deliveries.
  • Offering periodic healthy lunches is another way to influence your employees’ food choices. Free food that’s healthy and delicious? A winning formula!
  • You can also hold a monthly healthy potluck, where everyone brings in a healthy dish of their choice. Use a sign-up sheet in the break room to allow people to indicate what they’re bringing, so there’s no overlap.
  • Providing employees with nutritional education in the form of online or printed materials can also be very helpful.
  • You can even send out a weekly or monthly workplace wellness newsletter that’s filled with tips and recipe ideas.


  • Partner with a gym to give employees free or subsidized gym memberships, or offer incentives, like cash or gift cards, to employees for participating in a weight loss program.
  • You can also provide on-site fitness classes, like aerobics or Zumba, to make exercise easy and accessible.
  • If the area around your office is suitable for walks, organize a walking club that meets before or after work.
  • You can host a health fair by inviting companies and organizations such as health food stores, sporting goods stores, chiropractors, personal trainers, and hospitals to offer goodies and activities on the spot, like massages and screenings.
  • Get creative—have walking meetings instead of seated ones, and host fun office fitness challenges. This could be as simple as who can hold the longest wall sit in the office!

Stress Relief

  • Encourage a healthy work–life balance. If you can, provide a flexible work schedule that’s not restricted to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This gives employees some room to work at hours that are best suited for them.
  • Create a fun area where employees can unwind—maybe a Ping-Pong or foosball table.
  • You can also provide on-site stress reduction clinics to help employees manage and reduce stress, and make stress reduction counseling available.
  • Organize on-site yoga, where an instructor comes in to guide the team through a yoga class every other week.
  • Play upbeat music without lyrics through speakers around the office, which has been shown to improve mood and productivity. Keep it at an ambient level.
  • Convert an empty room into a “no work” company break room, where employees can gather to simply relax, meditate, or do yoga. Fill it with comfortable chairs and soft couches. Strictly no business talk allowed!

Now that you have some ideas, let’s look at how to start a wellness program on a budget:

Research and Identify Needs
Before jumping in to your wellness plan, it would be useful to survey your employees to see what kind of wellness programs they actually want and see value in.

Make a Plan
Identify programs that will best meet the needs of your employees. Then, analyze the costs of the programs and create a plan outlining which programs you will implement, when you will do so, and how much it will cost.

Be Aware of Regulations
It’s important to know the relevant regulations, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). General guidelines state that participation in wellness programs should be voluntary and any medical information obtained must remain confidential. Programs should also not be used for making any employment-related decisions, and there must be reasonable alternative standards available for certain types of programs.

Engage Employees Using Incentives
Since participation is voluntary, it can be helpful to encourage employees to participate with incentives. These could be gift cards, cash rewards, or reduced employee contributions to health care costs.

Evaluate the Results
Look at participation and satisfaction rates to tweak future programs and identify whether outcomes were achieved. Ask for feedback from employees on what they liked and didn’t like.

By implementing ideas like these and following the steps outlined above, you can begin to reap the benefits of a wellness program. You don’t have to wait until you have a large budget to get started. Begin to make small, subtle changes and be sure to observe the impact on your business. Do you have any other budget wellness program ideas? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Jessica Walrack has written about health, nutrition, and wellness for the past five years. When she's not writing, you'll find her traveling the world.

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