When they launched Drizly in 2012, Justin Robinson and Nick and Cory Rellas couldn't offer a formal wellness program as a recruitment and retention tool. So the trio, whose Boston-based e-commerce company sells beer, wine, and spirits to consumers through local retailers, improvised.

In 2014, employee feedback led to their starting competitive kick­ball and volleyball teams. Later, they offered staff a small monthly credit through the Expensify app to defray health- or fitness-related costs. That lasted until the end of 2017, when the company decided to redirect those funds to its expanding list of in-office and group fitness activities. These include things such as cycling, yoga, and boxing sessions--both at studios and onsite--which the company began to add in 2016. There are also fresh-food deliveries to the office.

$300 billion
Annual cost of work-related stress in the U.S., according to the American Institute of Stress.
235% vs. 159%
Stock appreciation of 45 companies with "best practices" wellness programs versus the S&P 500 from 2009 to 2014.
Source: Health Enhancement Research Organization
$876
Reduction in annual health care costs for University of Minnesota employees who participated in a weight-management program.
Source: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

"We want to empower our employees to create their own fitness- and health-promoting activities, which helps create a culture of wellness at Drizly," says Robinson. There is plenty of data connecting wellness at work with better corporate performance. Don't think you have the budget? As Drizly demonstrates, founders can initiate some of these benefits without breaking the bank.

1. Body

Healthier employees improve the bottom line. Period. Keith P. Mankin, whose All Peer Consulting, in Dallas, develops wellness programs for small businesses, says even modest perks, like a 10-minute chair mas­sage, show that you care about employee well-being. Some offer a lot more. GeoLinks, a telecom enterprise in Camarillo, California, offers an in-house gym and fit­ness programs. Lindsey Ditchfield, the wellness director, says, "Our program has done wonders in helping us represent who we are as a company and what we stand for culturally." That in turn lowers recruiting costs, she says.

Some owners, like Mark Sherwood and his wife, Michele Neil- Sherwood, of the Functional Medical Institute in Tulsa, think employees should pay something. The couple (he's a naturopathic doctor; she's an osteopath) provide a healthy- lifestyle coaching service. They believe that "when employees don't have skin in the game, the perceived value of the service decreases," says Mark Sherwood.

2. Mind

If you're keen on helping employees reduce stress, ongoing research increasingly demonstrates the physical and mental health benefits of meditation. Mndfl, a guided-meditation studio in New York City, offers a program called Mndfl@Work. The package of eight 30- or 45-minute sessions is taught by an instructor matched to your company's culture and goals. There are app-based programs, too. The fact that meditation is nonreligious "makes it more accessible and encourages employee participation," says Mndfl COO Jo Lanus.

Patrick Moberg, co-founder and co-owner of Dots, a New York City firm that develops games for mobile devices, was already providing onsite yoga sessions before adding meditation. He says meditation is like a muscle that strengthens over time, rather than a quick fix, and that it's hardly a rest period. "It's a discipline that helps practitioners control the focus of their thoughts, which can often lead to more productivity," explains Moberg.

"Thriving is about creating a culture that promotes succeeding at life as well as at work. It's not just how physical health or wellness is defined." Renee Moorefield, chair of the Wellness at Work initiative at the Global Wellness Institute

3. Pocketbook

With 401(k)s' having replaced pensions, workers must plan their own finances, a job they're not prepared for. "Employees dealing with financial stress cost companies a fortune in lost productivity," says Denise Winston, owner and CEO of Money Starts Here, in Bakersfield, California. Sometimes, problems are easy to spot, she says--workers ask for salary advances, for instance. Winston's company licenses a package of 20 online video courses on a variety of financial topics, starting at $30 per employee annually.

One client, Chad Hathaway, owner and CEO of Hathaway LLC, an oil production business in Bakersfield, noticed that some team members hadn't enrolled in the firm's retirement program. It's a common issue across our savings-short economy. Employees often don't understand basics, such as matching contributions--free money. "Since making the financial wellness course available, we've seen an increase in our 401(k) enrollment," Hathaway says.

Welcoming Wellness

Two tips before you start:

Don't get personal. Be careful in addressing personal health issues, says Laurie Brednich, owner and CEO of HR Company Store, an online-vendor search engine for human resources professionals, based in Chandler, Arizona. You can't tell a worker he is overweight and would benefit from a weight-reduction program. If that person is ever terminated for performance issues, he can argue he was fired for being disabled. "It's best to speak to your entire group or through a memo, and don't assume everyone will want to sign on," Brednich says.

Keep it simple. Be sure you budget the time. Brednich says owners often fail to recognize the paperwork required to set up employee schedules for, say, an onsite massage session. One solution is to assign those responsibilities to a passionate and results-oriented employee. "Without ownership, wellness programs often fail," she says.

Why Great Leaders Take Health Seriously

From the May 2018 issue of Inc. Magazine