Workplace Wellness Programs for Startups

25+ low-to-no-cost wellness ideas

Table of Contents

Thanks to companies like Google and sites like Glassdoor, it’s easy to believe that workplace wellness requires on-site gyms, nap rooms, and personal chefs on payroll. Actual workplace wellness, however, isn't about costly perks (which, on their own, is all those really are).

If your goal is to help your people lead healthier, more balanced lives, there are just two questions you should be asking: do you encourage your employees to practice healthy habits? And does your company culture make it possible for them to do so?

Do you encourage your employees to practice healthy habits, and does your company culture make it possible for them to do so?

At Collage, we’re all about providing actionable and attainable people and culture advice for startups and small businesses. So we’re focusing on workplace wellness program ideas that

  • are easy to implement;
  • encompass physical, mental, and social wellbeing; and
  • will work for companies of any size, on any budget.

With those criteria in mind, we’ve made a list of low-to-no cost employee wellness ideas so you can pick and choose ones that will work for your company, your budget, and your people.

Keep scrolling for our full list of low-to-no cost workplace wellness ideas. But first…

What exactly is workplace wellness?

Workplace wellness programs are company initiatives, activities, or policies that aim to improve the health of their employees. Typically, their aim is to decrease absenteeism and increase worker productivity, though other sought-after outcomes include higher engagement, more positive attitudes toward work, lower churn rate, and reduced healthcare-related costs.

Wellness programs vary widely from office to office and even person to person. Classic wellness initiatives include smoking cessation, online health tests, and good ol’ employee benefits.

More recently, the idea of workplace wellness has expanded from fitness and nutrition to include mental and emotional health, psychological safety, financial wellness, family care, professional growth and more.

The problem with workplace wellness programs

Workplace wellness isn’t without controversy. In the U.S., such programs have been associated with discrimination, privacy concerns, and shifting corporate healthcare costs onto employees.

While the same extremes aren’t as common here in Canada, we’re not off the hook:

“[Wellness programs are] a convenient way for organizations to appear to care (often with great fanfare) without actually structurally changing anything, like adding additional headcount to their workforce, increasing paid time off, or limiting the priorities their employees are tasked with,” writes Jane Watson, Toronto-based HR professional.

Offering fitness memberships, brochures, and social outings will only be beneficial if your employees

  • have reasonable workloads, adequate time off, and schedules that suit their needs
  • are aware of and fully understand the wellness options available to them
  • feel confident that making use of these options will not negatively affect their employment with you.

In short, you must create a culture of wellness wherein employees are e

Over to you! Get started with our list of low-cost workplace wellness

Now that we’ve covered how to create a culture of workplace wellness, here are our favourite ideas for low-cost, easy-to-implement, and meaningful employee wellness activities:

Physical Health Ideas

These ideas focus on fitness and nutrition. There are plenty of low-cost and easy options to choose from. As your budget increases, you can look to offering gym memberships, company-branded fitness swag, and fully-catered meals.

  • Initiate a 3 p.m stretch
  • Create a list of healthy lunch spots near your office
  • Share maps of nearby walking/biking paths
  • Offer time off and reminders to get flu shots
  • Install standing desks around the office
  • Buy yoga mats, weights, and foam rollers for the office
  • Install free or inexpensive apps, like Flux, Time Out, or Dialogue that encourage health
  • Start a friendly group challenge, like taking the stairs or bringing homemade lunch
  • Initiate a monthly potluck or salad club (thanks to Nested Naturals for the tip!)
  • Stock your office with only healthy snacks
  • In addition to traditional benefits, offer an HSA (health spending account)
  • Negotiate group discounts at nearby gyms
  • Choose group outings that prioritize being outdoors
  • Ensure there is secure bike parking near your office
  • Install some ping pong tables (yes, we've been harsh about them in the past...)

Mental Health Ideas

Thanks to movements like #BellLetsTalk, there is increasing and overdue awareness about mental health at work. The issue is both too dangerous and costly to ignore, costing billions of dollars in lost productivity affecting the quality of life of thousands every day. As an employer, put as much focus on mental and emotional wellbeing as you would physical health.

  • Participate in discussions about mental health, such as #BellLetsTalk
  • Share a list of local support groups, counselors, or health centers
  • Encourage frequent breaks from work, including short breaks and actual vacations
  • Provide S.A.D (seasonal affective disorder) lamps during the winter months
  • Designate a small meditation and/or prayer room within your office
  • Donate books to the office library and encourage reading breaks
  • Use guided online meditations (you can even run meditation breaks over Skype for remote teams)
  • Liven up the office with green plants (avoid scented flowers, however)
  • Ensure the office environment (temperature, lighting, noise, air quality) is comfortable for everyone
  • Provide educational materials, such as
  • In addition to traditional benefits, offer an EAP (employee assistance program), a confidential, short-term, counseling service for employees with personal problems that affect their work performance

Social Health Ideas

This category covers the broader area of work-life balance. Social health involves our ability to form meaningful relationships with others. This includes relationships at work and outside of it, such as family, friends, and peers. These wellness initiatives will help employees find a balance between their work responsibilities and their families, loved ones, financial needs, and professional growth.

  • Initiate a 'go-dark' policy for vacation and personal days
  • Offer flex hours if your industry allows. They are easy, free, and meaningful to almost all employees
  • Offer financial wellness by providing a group RRSP and financial counseling
  • Host a series of lunch'n'learns by inviting local experts (or your own employees) to talk about personal development, finances, career planning, community building, or any passion they have
  • Encourage employees to take courses or go to conferences that will build their professional skills
  • Accommodate religious observances
  • Offer volunteer days, birthdays off, or other unique employee time off types
  • Use time off management software to track vacation and sick day usage. If employees aren't taking theirs, it may be worth investigating why
  • Provide parental leave top-ups
  • Make your workplace pet and kid-friendly
  • Provide house cleaning or grocery delivery for families
  • Subsidize public transport and allow employees to work from home if possible

We could easily go on, but we'll leave the imaginative parts up to you.

Finally, try to think of your wellness program as a living, breathing thing. As long as you focus on sustaining a culture of wellness rather than individual perks, your wellness program is likely to evolve and grow, just like your people. And that's a beautiful thing.

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