Less than half of all U.S. small businesses offer employee health benefits, according to a new survey by the National Federation of Independent Business.

Of 1,654 small-business owners polled nationwide, 47 percent said they offer either health insurance or an insurance purchase subsidy, according to the Washington-based lobby group. In addition, only 36 percent of those who do provide some type of health benefit offer insurance to all or most full-time employees, the survey found.

"Small-business owners experience considerable turmoil in their early years," William J. Dennis, senior research fellow at NFIB, said in a statement. "It's much better for employee morale if a small-business owner never offers health benefits than it is to offer them and be forced to take it away because it is too expensive to continue."