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moving workplace wellness forward without leadership support

March 1, 2012

in wellness

an audience member at my TLNT transform session asked me: what do i do if i don’t have leadership support? is my wellness effort dead in the water?

it’s a fair question. review the checklist from WELCOA for a well workplace, and you’ll find senior leadership support as numero uno requirement.

i’m not going to dispute it as an important element. without senior leadership support, it’ll be tough going. senior leadership support delivers the much-needed budget to underwrite your programs and communications. it also delivers the implicit permission to focus the organization on wellness. and when senior leadership support comes with senior leadership presence and participation, then you’ve really got something.

what i will dispute is that you can’t move ahead without it.

here’s what i told this audience member: if you can’t get senior leadership support, then start from the ground up. start with the activists, those who believe in this idea and are fully committed to it. start with them in two ways:

  • turn your activists into wellness champions. recruit them, train them and then let them work their magic. unleash these volunteer employee wellness champions to talk with other employees about your wellness effort—what it is, what it offers, why it’s important and how it serves employees. unleash them to talk about their own transformation, whether or not they used your wellness resources. health activists feel empowered about their own health and they’re highly persuasive. their passion and belief will attract other employees, and then their willingness to launch and support these newly interested employees will increase participation.
  • invite key players to serve on a wellness council. i shared tips for running an effective wellness council meeting in my february newsletter (written in traditional case):

“It’s a given that your wellness manager and others from your benefits department will fill some chairs. The rest of the seats should be filled by members of your communications team, in-house alliance partners (Health and Safety), third-party partners and field human resources. You also want to include some average Joes and Janes from different locations and roles and perspectives: the skeptics, influencers and naysayers.”

you can seed your wellness council with amplifiers in your organization, those individuals who hold sway, who are not senior leaders by title but are senior leaders by reputation. if you seed your wellness council with them and with “affiliates,” those people who run key departments or initiatives and who are your allies, you’ll again build reputation, presence and participation. you may even be able to secure a senior leader who connects with your mission and message.

as you rack up successes through these grassroots efforts, you’ll pique senior leadership’s interest. you’ll have the proof of concept to show them. and ultimately, you’ll gain their support.



Leave a Comment

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Leah O'Neill March 1, 2012 at 10:37 am

The question of leadership buy-in is a common question, and I think you offer great tips and encouragement to continue and succeed even without direct leadership support! I’d like to offer three more suggestions that can help strengthen a wellness initiative without upper management support.

1. Recruit lower and line management support. Seeing your direct boss participate in and actively support wellness initiatives helps create a culture of wellness in the workplace and is a great motivator for front line employees to get involved.

2. Build strong, consistent, branded communications for all your wellness initiatives. Communicating highly visible, frequent, targeted wellness promotions will help keep the programs and initiatives in front of the employee audience, and will support the word-of-mouth promotions of the wellness champions. Consider promoting programs through staff emails, posters in key areas, in employee newsletters, announcements at staff meetings, or setting up an information booth in the cafeteria.

3. Provide a process for employee feedback and input on wellness program development. Whether you use a formal or informal process, let employees know that the wellness programs are for them, and that their feedback will help create initiatives that meet their needs.

Thanks for this article, Fran. Looking forward to reading others comments on this topic!


fran March 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm

great adds, leah. i concur with all of them. and i’d add to the communications, that one can and should use employee wellness champions to be a channel, too. those “fly-by” conversations at the time of need or interest are key to moving someone from interested and not participating to participating. or to dislodging someone when they’re stuck. also, social media channels are a fantastic tool as well, as they serve as the many tentacles into an organization and out to home. they are available 24/7 and many seamlessly deliver information to employees or family members when we’re in our “home” mode.



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