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Employee wellness champions contribute to program success

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Population health research shows that health—whether good or bad—is contagious, and that health behaviors are easily influenced by the people around us. Just how influential are the people we socialize with? According to a 2008 study on smoking cessation published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a person in a workplace setting was 34 percent more likely to quit smoking if a co-worker also quit smoking. In addition to that, a recent Gallup poll shows that six hours of social interaction a day is associated with significantly more happiness and less stress. Such findings indicate that the combination of being socially active and interacting with people who live a healthy lifestyle can have a positive effect on your own personal health status.

Social interaction happens on many levels, but for the vast majority of working adults, our social interaction is shaped largely by the environment in which we work and by our co-workers. That’s why employee wellness champions play an important role in generating employee support for workplace wellness programs. And, while a majority of StayWell clients have some type of wellness champion network, only a small minority have fully optimized them to build strong grassroots support for their programs. Industry-wide, this appears to be true, as well. Among the 814 employers who have completed the HERO Employee Health Management Best Practice Scorecard in collaboration with Mercer, 49 percent use employee wellness champions at some or all of their offices to educate and engage employees in their programs.Research from StayWell also demonstrates that the degree to which social interaction between co-workers influences behavior change also is influenced by characteristics like age, gender and health status. For example, a recently completed study found that the presence of wellness champions was associated with better risk reduction among older employees. This means that employers who are looking to build networks of wellness champions who are passionate about health and wellness need to do this with their specific workforce in mind.

Employers who complete the HERO Scorecard tend to be somewhat large, with 33 percent having more than 5,000 employees. Employers of that size are more likely to have wellness champion networks, which mean that there is great potential in the future for wellness champions to help U.S. workers live healthier lives. Understanding the potential impact of workplace social interactions on health behaviors is important because culture and communications are two elements of comprehensive employee health management programming that have been shown to positively influence wellness participation rates and outcomes—and wellness champions can help build both of these program elements.

“Wellness champions are more than just cheerleaders for the wellness program. They are individuals who have been selected by their company leadership for their ability to connect with and influence their co-workers,” said Lesley Lesch, director of account management, StayWell Health Management. “Wellness champions wear many hats: they need to be able to understand and explain the wellness program to co-workers, to visibly participate in programs, to relate to the health challenges of co-workers, and to generate interest in the program.”

Because of the importance of this role, StayWell recommends that employers adopt a few basic strategies when recruiting wellness champions:

  • Collect referrals or nominations from management teams
  • Look to existing work groups for potential champions
  • Once wellness champions are identified, help them empower their peers to communicate wellness program offerings from the ground up

Wellness networks are typically composed of three levels: strategic committees, appointed leaders and grassroots champions. Corporate culture will dictate whether or not all three levels are present within a given organization. Most commonly, networks are formed from the employee base (bottom-up approach) or at the direction of a strategic committee (top-down approach). The most successful networks provide direction and communications down to the employee base through champions and consider feedback from champions up to leaders and committees that make strategic decisions. Champions are typically categorized as staff members who voluntarily represent the wellness program among their peers and within their departments. They increase program awareness and participation through face-to-face communication and implement promotional activities in individual locations or departments. Most often, champions are taking direction from leaders whose job descriptions include wellness responsibilities. Strategic committees provide leaders with direction regarding budget management and program goals. The committee also may be responsible for approving leader and champion activities and investing in wellness program offerings.

 

WellTimes – Spring 2013 – In this Issue

Ahead of the curve

Shaping the future of employee health management

Ask the Experts: Balancing technology and social support in an employee wellness program

Research perspective: How financial incentives influence coaching participation and engagement

Client case study: Affinia Group, Inc.

Employee wellness champions contribute to program success

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Online Classrooms make health education easy and convenient

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