Companies are not doing enough to support wellness champions

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How do your clients tackle employee well-being? Organization size, location, employee distribution and corporate culture are all factors that affect well-being goals and strategies, which are probably different from other organizations. Although no two companies are completely alike, one strategy that appears to be used by organizations of all sizes is wellness champion networks.

Research has shown a connection between social interactions and emotional well-being, and that we benefit from interaction with others. This often comes in the form of sharing information and successes, and acting as cheerleaders for peers, coworkers and social connections who are trying to make healthy lifestyle changes.

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A recent analysis of data from the HERO Health and Well-being Best Practices Scorecard in Collaboration with Mercer (HERO Scorecard) revealed how employers are using wellness champion networks as a part of health and well-being initiatives. This data provides insight into what these companies feel is most effective to build a successful network.

The HERO Scorecard analysis, which included data from the 394 companies that have completed Version 4 of the HERO Scorecard, included questions about how companies of different sizes use and support wellness champion networks. One goal of this analysis was to determine if wellness champion support strategies differ based on company size. By combining this information with past studies, we can get a good picture of what may benefit various organizations.

Regular meetings for wellness champions
The most popular strategy to support wellness champion networks across the board was “regularly scheduled meetings for the champion team.” Small employers led the way in the use of this strategy, with mid-sized and large employers following suit:
· 89% of small employers utilize meetings
· 71% of mid-sized employers utilize meetings
· 78% of large employers utilize meetings

Common sense holds that in order for a wellness champion “network” to function as a true network, there have to be regular meetings. Past studies we’ve conducted have shown that there’s no perfect schedule for these meetings, perhaps because every network is different — in terms of size, geographic distribution, goals and availability. All these factors should be considered when planning how often champions meet.

Rewards or recognition for accomplishments
According to the HERO Scorecard analysis, rewards/recognition was the second most common strategy for small and mid-sized employers (54% and 48% respectively). Meanwhile, 63% of large employers say they use rewards or recognition to support their wellness champions.

Rewards and recognition also seem like a common-sense approach to engaging wellness champions, but there is surprisingly little evidence to show that this strategy leads to greater engagement or network effectiveness. Unpublished analyses of StayWell clients show little consistency between champion network rewards and well-being program performance (e.g. participation rates). When we’ve spoken directly with champions about why they got involved, it seldom has to do with recognition or rewards.

“I had a couple of health issues that kind of piqued my interest and made it more important for me,” said one champion, when explaining why she got involved.

Another said, “I don’t know if we would’ve really embraced it” if she hadn’t stepped forward and said her office should have a wellness champion. This is not a unique case, as our studies indicate between 60-70% of wellness champions are volunteers.

Given how passionate champions tend to feel about health and well-being, it’s not surprising that nearly half of the organizations included in the HERO Scorecard analysis don’t use extrinsic motivators to encourage wellness champions. Some low-cost options for reward strategies that StayWell has seen include:
· Incentive points. Granting points to individual champions or locations for achieving a certain level of participation or driving year-over-year health improvements. These points can be used to qualify champions for a raffle drawing or additional prizes.
· Feel-good incentives. Reward champion networks with gift cards, raffle prizes, T-shirts, or trophies.
· Champion-to-champion recognition. Identify champions who are going the extra mile and encourage them to present their successes at meetings. Champions could also vote for the “champion of the year” award, based on who takes the most action in their location.

Wellness champion toolkits
Using communications and promotional toolkits to support wellness champions was also common practice among employers, though it was quite a bit more common for large employers. Among those employers who completed the HERO Scorecard, toolkits were used by:
· 78% of large employers,
· 48% of mid-sized employers, and
· 44% of small employers

Interviews with wellness champions have revealed that toolkits could be among the most appreciated support strategies. Toolkits include pre-made, ready-to-use, turnkey items that are easily accessible in the workplace and reduce the burden on champions to create original materials from scratch.

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One champion said the most useful things were flyers and email reminders, “so I don’t have to spend a lot of time racking my brain.” This was a common thread when asked about helpful or useful information.

Program deadlines and related factors were cited by champions as being extremely important because that’s what employees want, and need, to know so they can be in the right place at the right time to participate in programs. When considering whether or not to use a toolkit, as a majority of large employers do, it may be beneficial to ask champions themselves if they would find it useful, and what they want included.

Training for champions
Offering a training program for wellness champions was also noted as a strategy being used by employers, with 46% of small employers, 37% of mid-sized employers, and 61% of large employers, stating they offer training opportunities to enhance their wellness champion networks.

It may be that network size is one reason for the difference in training between large, mid-sized and small employers. Smaller networks, particularly those that only have a handful of people, may not need anything as formal as “training.” A simple orientation may be a better fit.

Interestingly, when we’ve spoken with champions, they did not cite formal training as one of the things that prepared them to be a champion. Often they are asked if they want to volunteer and are given the information as they need it. Most wellness champions find it easy to ask questions and get on-the-job training. They are generally friendly, social, outgoing people looking for a way to help.

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That’s not to say training wouldn’t be beneficial. Logic indicates that it would be, since giving people tools to execute their goals is often the first step to success. At minimum, it’s a good idea to provide new champions with an overview of expectations, available resources, and who to contact with questions. In addition, some organizations have had success implementing a short transition period, during which an outgoing champion mentors their replacement.

Opportunities to do more
As companies recognize the value of workplace health and well-being, organizations of varying sizes may find they can learn from each other and take their wellness champion networks — and their employee wellness program — to the next level. Consider the following approaches to supporting the growth and evolution of your clients’ wellness champion networks:

· Find creative ways for personal interaction. Use different meeting formats, (face-to-face, online chats, social media or video conferences) so all employees can participate in ways that fit their personal preferences.
· Use toolkits to share information. A toolkit can include simple handouts or online resources for employees. Providing turnkey tools to champions can help them to easily and consistently communicate about the program with employees.
· Train wellness champions. Find a timeframe and frequency that works for your organization, and use it to gather champions and provide updates on new program developments, company health goals, and opportunities for employees to participate.

On the road to creating and sustaining a successful wellness champion network, it’s important to take stock of your program and make sure you’re headed in the right direction by asking these questions:

Do you have the right number of wellness champions to reach your goals?
· Are the right people participating in your wellness champion network?
· Do you have the resources to support corporate wellness strategies?
· Are you meeting frequently enough to keep wellness champions informed and engaged?
· Are you providing support that fits your company culture?
· Are your rewards or recognition meaningful?
· What do wellness champions say about the support they receive?

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