Building a Wellness Champion Network



Use social connections to promote a culture of health

By Erin L. D. Seaverson Sep 11, 2015

A wellness champion network is a group of employees who work to improve the health and culture of the workplace in conjunction with an employer-sponsored wellness program. By socially connecting with others and helping to educate their co-workers about program offerings, wellness champions strive to achieve this shared goal.

For companies that have champion networks in place, their champions are crucial to how program information is communicated to employees—and the level of acceptance their programs receive.

Research by StayWell, a health engagement firm, has shown promising connections between the use of wellness champion networks as a part of organizational culture and wellness program outcomes, such as health risk assessment completion rates. Employers are recognizing the potential impact of the social influence of wellness champions.

Employer Guidance at a Glance

Wellness champions generally volunteer for this role; it is not part of their paid position. And a company can have a handful of champions or it can have hundreds, depending on the company size and number of locations.

Though there is no clear evidence to indicate what constitutes an optimal number of champions, experienced wellness practitioners often recommend setting a target of a representative 1 percent of your workplace population to serve as champions. A “stretch goal” could be to have up to 3 percent of your workforce serving as champions.

What does it take to be a wellness champion? The one essential characteristic for an individual to possess is a passion for good health. Whether champions aim to lose weight, manage their diabetes, become more active or stop smoking, or if they have already achieved their health goals, champions need to believe in the value of health improvement and be willing to support the benefits of corporate wellness programs—and to share both their passion and experiences with others. These are individuals who truly embrace the notion of “walking the talk” and strive to be positive health role models to their peers.

Creating a Wellness Champion Network

If you think your organization would benefit from a wellness champion network, or if you already have a network in place and are looking to enhance or improve on how the group currently operates, think about the following questions:

Who are your top wellness champion candidates?

Seek out employees with the following characteristics:

Passionate—Employees who aspire to be champions and have enthusiasm for enhancing the culture of health at their workplace.

Social skills—Employees who naturally make connections with and show compassion for their co-workers. Champions should be easy to approach, have strong communication and leadership skills, and be looked up to by their co-workers.

Role model qualities—Employees who express a personal interest in healthy lifestyles, regardless of their current health status, can be excellent advocates for healthy behavior change.

What roles and responsibilities will you assign your wellness network champions at various levels?

This is closely tied to the goals and objectives employers hope to achieve. For example, tasking wellness champions with helping to improve awareness of wellness programs and increasing engagement in health education opportunities across the employee population can help create or enhance a culture of health at the workplace, as well as improve program participation. In addition, wellness champions can be responsible for:

Collaboration with established groups within the workforce.

Communication with location-specific leadership.

Providing feedback to corporate benefits/HR departments regarding program implementation and offerings.

What internal communications systems need to be in place?

Establish a communication structure for the network that aims to empower employees with information worth sharing among their peers. To do this:

Ensure that champions are provided clear expectations from a wellness leader about the responsibilities of network membership and how expectations fluctuate based on program-year initiatives.

Ask about conflicts of interest. Consider screening volunteers about interests outside of the company related to commercial health products or programs.

Encourage network members to consider how they can effectively reach out to employees and keep management informed around the feedback they receive.

Consider establishing reporting metrics, giving your wellness champions and leaders known targets and a consistent structure for reporting their initiatives.

For example, you may choose to tie results of your wellness network to your overarching employee health management goals, or to the three pillars of a comprehensive wellness program: communications, culture and incentives.

Employees involved in the network need to be able and willing to dedicate time to the role, and they need to have the support of their supervisor or manager for the responsibilities and expected time commitment of being a champion. StayWell’s research indicates champions average about 12 hours per month on wellness activities at their locations.

What metrics should be used to measureincrease in wellness events/programs?

Metrics should align with the overall goals and objectives established for your wellness champion network. These may include:

Program participation rates, overall and/or tracked by location or facility.

Employee satisfaction with specific aspects of the program (that may be influenced by the wellness champions).

Changing cultural norms, such as food orders for meetings and events and vending machine sales, through the use of a culture assessment.

Tips to Ensure Network Success

The following are examples of what champions can do to promote improved health throughout an organization:

Routinely communicate. Ensure that wellness program and policy information/updates are received and understood by their fellow employees.

Be visible. Serve as role models to other employees by implementing and actively participating in program offerings.

Share wellness stories. Testimonials can be a profoundly effective motivation tool.

Host wellness-related educational events. These can include “lunch and learns” to promote healthy behaviors (healthy eating, exercise) and stress management techniques.

Organize physical activity. Mid-day walks and after-work exercise are examples.

Coordinate health fairs and onsite screenings. This will involve working closing with HR staff and management.

Keep the program fun!

This wellness champion network tip sheet poster can be printed and posted at your worksite.

A final point: Once you establish a wellness champion network, it’s essential to nurture it so the team can continue to support your corporate health initiatives.

Erin L. D. Seaverson is senior director of research, analytics and reporting at StayWell, a provider of tools and solutions to improve health engagement, health education and health improvement. She steers and supports Staywell’s population health management research agenda in addition to its program analytics and reporting.​

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