Size does matter: Small businesses play big role in promoting wellness

Rebecca Weitzel
Rebecca Weitzel

Good things come in small packages — including small businesses. Small businesses, typically defined as those having 500 or fewer employees, represent 98 percent of businesses in Colorado and 99 percent of businesses nationwide. Moreover, small businesses employ roughly half of the workforce. According to studies conducted by the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses also lead the country in innovation. Clearly, small businesses constitute the foundation of our economy and communities.

In an era of increased stress, isolation and lifestyle disease among workers, small firms can leverage their foundational position to improve workforce well-being. Compared to large corporations, small businesses also can more quickly reap the rewards. Large enterprises tend to implement well-being initiatives to drive down health care costs — an outcome that can take years to achieve. Small businesses focus on such issues as absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover — pain points that sting small businesses more than large ones.

Think about it. When a small business employee —someone who typically wears many hats — misses work because of illness or burnout, equally strapped coworkers endure added strain. Employees of small businesses who might be working, but lack the energy and focus to fully contribute, reduce overall productivity. And when an employee leaves a small business, precious company resources of time and money must be diverted to recruiting and training a replacement. All these disruptions affect morale, customer service and the bottom line of small businesses. There are simply fewer people and safety nets to deal with those circumstances compared to large corporations.

Fortunately, some of the unique attributes of small businesses also make them optimal places to promote health and well-being: visible and engaged leadership, agile cultures, fewer cumbersome processes and higher levels of personal connections. Rather than just absorb the effects of health-related issues, small businesses can address the causes of the problems.

A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion showed the success of well-being programs is largely determined by the level of leadership support within an organization. This is an advantage to small businesses because leaders are typically highly visible. Healthy behaviors and attitudes adopted by leadership quickly spread in small businesses, while the influence of leaders in large corporations is diluted. Moreover, there are fewer employees at small businesses to influence.

This means it’s easier to shift group mindsets and transform cultures with a few simple policies and practices.  Small business can test new solutions, make decisions and pivot quickly if necessary. In contrast, large enterprises must wade through layers of cumbersome processes to make changes. Finally, small businesses by their nature are more likely than large ones to already have cultures that treat employees as friends and family and create a support network. That’s an essential element to promoting lasting behavioral changes.

If your small business is interested in making employee well-being a priority, consider taking these steps:

Establish a team to dedicate time to activities that promote mental, physical and even financial fitness.

Conduct an employee survey to determine your team’s needs and interests around health and well-being.

Join the Health Links Network — a signature program of the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health — to assess your health and safety policies and programs, receive advice to help you set actionable goals, connect with other like-minded businesses and earn recognition as a healthy business. To learn more, go to

Consider advancing research by participating in the Center for Health, Work & Environment Small + Safe + Well (SSWell) study. This study is designed to determine the way small organizations support the health, safety and well-being of their workforces, assess health outcomes and determine how employees perceive their workplace cultures. Contact Erin Shore at (303) 724-8395 or to learn more.

If you live in Mesa County, attend wellness works meetings to discuss topics, share ideas and support workplace well-being efforts. Meetings are set for noon to 1 p.m. the first Thursday of every month at Hilltop Community Resources corporate offices at 1331 Hermosa Ave. in Grand Junction. Send an e-mail to for additional information.

Many of us already know small businesses accomplish big things. If every small business incorporated workplace well-being into their strategic plans, the collective result would transform the health of our workforce and in turn the communities in which we live.