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Despite the growing concerns of the latest efforts to overhaul the national health care system, there are those gems that are leaping out. One of those gems is the $200 million grants that will be available for small businesses that wish to incorporate wellness programs for their staffs. The goal is to reduce the number of sick days employees take. A healthier employee means fewer lost days at the office, or at least, that’s the theory, says A. Harrison Barnes, career coach and founder of

Currently, Health and Human Services is developing an application process, but there are some guidelines already in place, including:

* In this instance, a small business is defined as one with less than 100 employees

* Employers must offer in tandem with their wellness programs health education, health risk assessments and preventive screenings.

* Methods to ensure employee participation

* Programs that are designed to change bad habits such as smoking, poor dieting habits, poor exercise habits, etc.

* A work environment that’s conducive to healthier living

Some suggest these wellness programs, when implemented in an effective and easy to access manner, could realistically increase worker productivity by reducing lost days due to illness. A. Harrison Barnes says these efforts could mean a 30 percent decrease in employee absenteeism. Further, worker’s compensation claims could drop as well as health care costs — both for employer and employee. The founder says this could be one of the few saving graces with the health care reform. Many businesses that already have wellness programs in place say incentives work well, too. Employees are working together and even raising the bar for success. One Tennessee staffing firm says its employees challenge one another in everything from weight loss to smoking cessation. It reports a significant drop in the number of sick days taken and the morale of employees is impressive.

Even as more questions are being asked than answers provided on the new health care plan, this is one aspect that is already working. The government says it will begin releasing funds once the parameters are defined by Health and Human Services. This is expected to occur within the next twelve months.

For now, employers are watching this develop and many are already instituting different procedures to ensure they’re in compliance and eligible for their share of this grant money. It’s definitely going to attract interest and will be a big selling point when job candidates are pondering more than one job offer. Still, companies that are eagerly awaiting this funding say the attraction for new employees is just an added bonus; the goal, they say, it to ensure the health and well being of its current employees. After all, it’s the people behind the business that defines the success of a company.

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