How Startups Can Promote Employee Wellness on a Shoestring Budget

There’s no way around it: Startup life takes a toll on workers’ well-being. Every project means developing new processes. Every employee spearheads a function — or three — on his or her own. Every mistake increases the chances the company won’t make it to adulthood.

Spend 60 hours a week in that sort of environment, and see how you feel. Is it any surprise wellness programs are now most common at startups, where 85% of leaders with one think it’s worth the investment?

The trouble is that startups rarely have the resources to offer what employees coming from enterprises might expect in a wellness program. On-site clinics, biometric screenings, and company-provided fitness trackers require a wellness budget of five figures or more.

Without those resources, startups have to get scrappy. To cover a wide range of wellness areas on a shoestring budget:

1. Play team sports for increased Employee Wellness.

Paid gym memberships are a staple of corporate wellness programs, but they don’t come cheap. At around $50 per employee per month, fitness memberships for a six-person team add up to $3,600 per year. For a company without revenue rolling in, that’s unsustainable.

Instead, kill three birds with one all-but-free stone: competitive sports. Not only do team sports build muscle and cardiovascular endurance, but they also serve as bonding activities and mental health supports. Some mental health experts even suggest them for ADHD treatment and depression relief. Not bad, considering that most team sports require just a court, a ball, and a bat or racket.

2. Create a meditation space.

Meditation isn’t magic; it’s just the act of being mindful. Simply by focusing attention on the here and now, meditation reduces anxiety, improves sleep, controls pain, and can even fight addictions.

What’s the ideal environment for meditation? Set up a small space — ideally a quiet room with windows — with comfortable mats. Use decorations like live plants, paintings, and tapestries to bring a soft, contemplative feel to the room. For workers who like to meditate to music or nature sounds, add a Bluetooth speaker. Finally, hang a sign on the door that says something like “Meditation in progress” on one side to cut down on disturbances.

3. Set work-life boundaries.

It’s not an exaggeration that some startup leaders work 80-hour weeks. Even if those leaders don’t ask their team members to do the same, the pressure is obvious. When there’s work to be done and the boss isn’t leaving, only the bravest of workers would pack their bags. It doesn’t take many of those weeks for burnout and sleep deprivation to set in.

Work boundaries can be tough to set — and even harder to stick to — but the truth is that productivity declines past 50 working hours per week. Try setting core hours, optional hours, and never-ever hours. Perhaps everyone should work from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., for example, but never from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Then, to fill their quota, team members can pick and choose from the remaining hours.

4. Give back together.

In a way older generations simply don’t, Millennials make volunteering a priority. Not only does spending an afternoon out of the office together build team bonds, but it can also further physical and mental wellness goals. Many volunteer activities, like litter clean-up, are physical in nature. Others, like reading to children, promote emotional health by helping employees de-stress in a community setting.

Wellness doesn’t have to be complicated, and it certainly doesn’t have to be expensive. Startups simply need to do what they do best: Leverage what few resources they have to build something big.