Nearly half of U.S. firms with three to nine workers offer some form of health insurance to employees, as do 71 percent of firms with 10 to 24 workers, according to a 2011 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. However, the report also indicates that small businesses pay an average of about $5,300 a year per employee for individual coverage and more than $14,000 a year for family insurance plans.
If covering such costs is not financially feasible for your small business, there are plenty of nontraditional ways in which you can promote employee wellness. Here are 10 employee health benefits that are cheaper than insurance:
1. Fresh produce — Ordering one box of fresh fruit for the office each week can cost you as little as $1 per employee, according to the FruitGuys, which delivers organic and traditional assortments to offices around the country. For about $200, you can also invest in a juicer and set up a “DIY juice bar” in your break room.
2. Mindfulness and meditation sessions — A 2009 study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University concluded that offering employees just six “lunch hour” guided meditation sessions combined with a gentle 20-minute yoga practice at their desks “lowered feelings of stress by more than 10 percent and improved sleep quality in sedentary office employees.” Contact local yoga studios to find instructors who can structure and guide an appropriate program for your workplace.
3. Gym memberships — Encourage employees to stay well by supplying a monthly fitness stipend or offering a paid monthly membership to a nearby gym. Many gyms will negotiate “group rates” with local businesses.
4. Open vacation policies — Unlike traditional scenarios, which limit vacation time, open vacation policies (now the norm at tech companies like Netflix and Automattic) are based on the belief that as long as an employee is performing to standards, a vacation without time restrictions is justified. Although it requires you to truly trust your employees, an open vacation policy can help to reduce your own administrative overhead when it comes to keeping track of paid vacation time.
5. Ergonomic workstations — A recent study published in BMJ Open concluded that sitting at a desk for more than three hours a day can reduce a person’s life span by two years. Ergonomic workstations are a relatively inexpensive way to give employees more physical freedom: Stand-up desks that convert from a seated to standing height start at about $1,000, and rocking footrests designed to promote circulation and reduce lower back pain cost about $50. For less than $20, you can equip each employee’s workstation with a large, inflatable core stability ball that can act as a chair when they’re craving movement.
6. Flu shots — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that seasonal influenza costs businesses more than $10.4 billion a year in lost productivity and flu-related hospitalization. Contact a local pharmacy for information on community vaccinations; in some cases, administrators will come to your workplace to perform flu shots on-site and at no cost to employees.
7. Monthly massages — According to massage provider Body Charge, chair massages in the workplace require just 36 square feet of open space and are completely private. The company maintains that just one chair massage session can reduce pain, tension, anxiety, and blood pressure.
8. Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) — HRA programs, such as the Intuit Health Debit Card, allow you to contribute an amount of money you choose for each of your employees to spend on health expenses, including health insurance premiums, prescriptions, and doctor visits. The funds you contribute are tax-deductible to your business and tax-free to your employees.
9. Free bicycles — Make physical activity easy for employees by providing free bikes that employees can use to run errands, take a leisurely ride, or go out to lunch.
10. Filtered water — According the Water Project, the average American spends $100 a year on bottled water. Install filters on the water taps in the workplace, so that employees can enjoy clean and odor-free drinking water, no deliveries or plastic bottles required.