Employee Wellness Programs Rely on ‘Champions’ At All Levels for Success

Encouraging formal and informal wellness “champions” from all levels of your organization is a proven way to help drive participation and engagement in your company’s employee wellness program. Their up-close, personal efforts are a critical to wellness success.

What is a “wellness champion?”

Successful wellness champions have several functions:

  • They function as a resource for employees seeking to improve their own lives;
  • They inspire those around them and show by example that making positive lifestyle changes that have a significant impact on health is both possible and realistic;
  • They are ambassadors for a positive corporate culture that encourages, supports and expects employee health, wellness, and work-life balance.

It’s one thing to encourage wellness champions. But for them to succeed, they need support from upstairs. They need resources like time, office space and equipment. Here are some things employers can do to fully engage their wellness champions:

  • Recruit from all levels of the organization. Ideally, your wellness program should function not as a manager-to-subordinate exercise, but as a bottom-up, peer-to-peer effort.
  • Get input. Have your middle managers and influencers nominate champions from among their promising leaders. Invite them to step up to the opportunity. Then ask for volunteers.
  • Seek diversity in approaches and talents. Don’t limit your champion network to athletes and weekend marathoners. Sometimes, one of your best wellness ambassadors will be that employee who quietly lost 30 pounds over the winter, or who successfully quit smoking after a long effort and noticed a big improvement in her life and health. Recognize your quiet leaders. Their stories are inspiring.
  • Get your key leaders together. Bring your newly-identified champions in for a meeting. Ensure senior management is present: This is an important enough project to warrant CEO presence and some travel costs, if necessary. The long-term savings in reduced health care utilization, reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover and improved productivity will more than justify the initial investment in kicking off the effort with oomph – provided your wellness program is energetically executed over time. Senior management support and visible presence, plus a devoted core of champions seeded at all levels throughout the company, are the two key ingredients.
  • Explain your vision. Clearly communicate the goals of your employee wellness program and why they are important to your champions. Discuss the health challenges facing your company. Talk about the devastating effects that reversible or preventable health problems have on co-workers, on the long-term success and profitability of the company, and on the health care utilization costs that employees share, under most health plans. Demonstrate that all employees, at all levels, have skin in the game.
  • Get your middle managers on board. Ensure middle managers support your champions as they take time from their primary responsibilities during the week to engage in wellness-related activities. If you don’t, these middle managers will redirect your champions away from your wellness efforts, and they may quit your champion network in frustration, or to preserve their jobs. This may mean you need to look at ways to bonus managers when wellness programs and wellness champions in their departments are particularly effective.
  • Give your champions the tools to succeed. Develop tools that help your champions communicate. Examples include fliers, posters, T-shirts, banner signs for events, worksheets, survey materials and anything else that supports your champions in an effort to engage your work force.

(Exerpted from Kadalyst’s new e-book for workplace wellness professionals, Unlocking the ROI of Employee Wellness Programs. Available at www.kadalyst.com.)

About Kadalyst

Benjamin, Kerwynn and Adam Prinzing founded Kadalyst shortly after Darrell, a friend and co-worker of Benjamin’s, died as a result of heart failure at the age of 39.

The “D” in Kadalyst is in memory of Darrell, who continues to inspire Kadalyst to help employers foster health and wellness among their employees and their families – saving thousands of dollars in long-term health expenditures in the process.

Kadalyst focuses on helping employers save money and improve productivity and engagement levels through the successful implementation and communication of best-in-class workplace wellness programs.

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