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building a wellness culture from the ground up

June 2, 2011

in communication,culture,wellness

what’s the first thing you think you’ll need to have to pull off a successful workplace wellness effort? senior leadership support, right? fair enough. having senior leadership support opens more than a few doors, not the least of which is the door to the vault. it also opens doors with middle managers, a true linchpin to most company-based initiatives if ever there was one. true senior management support also means your wellness effort could be more than a program here and a benefit there—basically, window dressing. but having senior leadership support isn’t the be all and end all. you still need employees to get on board. and to accomplish that, you’re going to need something more.

i know the barometer points down on peer-to-peer communication in edelman’s 2011 trust barometer. they found we now trust CEOs and other experts more than peers. you could read into this that hearing from “people like me” is no longer a critical part of a communication or change plan. speaking from experience, these people are just the from-the-ground-up support you need to build a true culture of health. that’s because they’re users of your services and fellow travelers of your average workaday world. in other words, they get it and they can sell it. they get the obstacles that coworkers face, from too much work to too little manager support to too little time to figure out health, not to mention health care. because they get it, they can sell it, whether that “it” is a new high-deductible health plan they’ve successfully navigated, a health assessment that alerted them to some dire health risk, or a health coach who helped them get their diabetes under control and their life on a more even keel.

one effective way to get these voices out in the open is to build a corps of workplace wellness advocates who can be charged with everything from educating people about available programs, services and discounts to rolling out new initiatives—it all depends on what your company needs and how much support and training you can afford to give them. to get a wellness advocate program off the ground, here are six things to consider:

  1. what responsibilities will they have? will they educate and market only? or will they do more, like design and launch local initiatives or serve on a companywide wellness committee?
  2. what qualities should they have? do they need to be great public speakers or have experienced their own personal change? what you need them to do will dictate what qualities they must have.
  3. where do you need advocates? is there a business, a shift or a location that would benefit most from available advocates, and does it make sense to start there—even with a pilot?
  4. how will you support them? will you design an orientation program just for them, one that steeps them in the information you want them to share? will you offer ongoing training on different topics? again, this could range from the obvious (a new benefit) to the less so (public speaking and motivation).
  5. how will you connect them? if you’re geographically spread, chances are they are too. will you virtually connect them so they can learn from and advise one another?
  6. how will you recognize and reward them? will you provide incentives, and what will they be? will you recognize them, maybe with a community-voted program for best advocate?

employee wellness advocates are a natural extension of the work you’re doing, and they’re an extension who’s “been there, done that.” they can connect with their peers readily, and they can help you do so too. so, the next time you’re noodling how to get more senior management support, give equal time to how you’ll showcase and support employee advocates.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Henry Albrecht June 2, 2011 at 9:54 am

Thanks for sharing. (I also liked the Edelman deck). The way to connect “regular folks” to execs is by making well-being/health a strategic priority — ranked with all other top company goals.

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fran June 2, 2011 at 10:17 am

edelman puts out great information. you’d also like their health engagement barometer.

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Janet McNichol June 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I agree whole heartedly. I think needing top management support for a wellness program is one of two great myths. (The other being that you need cash incentives to get people to participate.) It’s as a nice to have, not a need to have. We’ve really benefited from our wellness advisory team. They give us feedback that shapes our planning, help us educate staff and market our initiatives.

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fran June 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm

i serve on a client’s wellness committee. it’s a tremendous benefit to have all of the different partners together to talk strategy and outcomes.

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Sarah Monley June 2, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Thank you for this post Fran. I appreciated #2. I like to find diverse categories of advocates and lump them together into councils. The best councils are made of: the workplace ‘mover and shaker’ + the workplace ‘in-the-know-newsy’ + the ‘health nut’ + the ‘social butterfly’. Like anything, the enthusiasm of a group working towards a common goal tends to motivate the employees around them.

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fran June 2, 2011 at 8:27 pm

love your categories, sarah! that is the value, bringing together different voices from different backgrounds.

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Dial Doctors June 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Fran I want to know how many advocates would you recommend for a company of about 200?
I’m putting in place a smoking cessation program for our call center for example while Maria is working on removing unhealthy food. However I feel like we’re not even close to cover as much ground as we could.

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fran June 2, 2011 at 8:33 pm

there’s no hard and fast ratio. you need to consider the role is and who they’re trying to reach. i personally believe advocates need to be known and available. they shouldn’t be a shill. they should be around to offer direction, guidance or support.

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