Wellness Champion Networks: A How-To Guide

Imagine setting out on a road trip without knowing which route to take, or how many miles to your destination, or if you have enough gas, or if you packed everything you need. Having a detailed plan improves the likelihood of success. The same thing goes for launching a wellness champion network.

In Stefan Gingerich’s article, The Science Behind Wellness Champion Networks, we learned about research that suggests social influences — family, friends, coworkers — can greatly affect health behavior. A wellness champion network allows employers to leverage the power of social influence to encourage healthy behaviors in employees.

More employers are discovering the value of wellness champion networks and are taking steps to implement their own. According to the Aon Hewitt 2013 Health Care Survey, 47% of employers had an active employee wellness team and 46% had onsite wellness champions. In 2014, 69% of StayWell clients had a wellness champion network in place.

To understand what strategies and tactics contribute the most to success and to identify best practices of wellness champion networks, StayWell surveyed clients. Findings showed that effective wellness champion networks share important attributes connected to culture, leadership support, recognition, and effective communication. If you think your organization could benefit from a wellness champion network, but aren’t sure how to begin, consider the following tips related to those characteristics.

Create a Wellness Champion Job Description
  • Outline the roles and responsibilities of individual champions and the overall network. Increasing program awareness and expanding participation in health education opportunities are common goals that can help build a culture of health. Champions can also play an important feedback role. They can provide direction or opinions on program design and communicating with other groups and leaders.
  • Estimate the time each wellness champion will spend in that role. StayWell research found the average is 12 hours/month. (Keep in mind that a champion’s available time may fluctuate throughout the year.)
  • Communicate with all levels of management about the role champions play in the organization. Next, talk about how they will help fulfill health goals, and your expectations of them. Then ensure their success with ongoing leadership support.
Recruit the Right Champions
  • Determine how many champions are needed, based on your goals. A common target is 1% of the workforce; a stretch goal could be 3%. Champions are needed at each location. A good rule of thumb is to have an onsite champion at every location with 25 or more employees.
  • Seek champions from various departments, with a mix of jobs, ages, and gender. Consider whether to recruit volunteers or make appointments and the pros and cons of each approach. For example, volunteers are more likely to bring excitement and dedication to the role, but may feel less accountability than an appointee. Champions are generally invited to serve for 1 year. Whether volunteer or appointed, top candidates should be employees who:
    • Are passionate about health — Aspire to be role models and have enthusiasm for enhancing the culture of health in the workplace
    • Have strong social skills — Connect easily with coworkers, are compassionate, and have strong communication and leadership skills
    • Model desired behaviors — Express an interest in improving health and demonstrate or are working toward healthy lifestyles (even if not in perfect health).
Empower Champions With Powerful Communication Materials/Access
  • Keep champions current on information they can share with coworkers as well as channels to reach employees, then set the stage by introducing wellness champions to the broader employee population.
  • Consider developing a wellness champion start-up kit complete with templates and planning calendars for consistent messaging. Keep branded health promotion materials fresh and current. Ask champions for their ideas on future materials.
  • Be sure champions understand what’s expected of them in keeping employees and leaders informed.
Measure and Celebrate Progress
  • Align wellness champion activities with the metrics for your wellness program, such as culture change, employee satisfaction, completion of specific wellness milestones, or participation rates.
  • Consider starting with an assessment that focuses on your workplace policies and physical elements that do — or do not — support employee health.
  • Give wellness champions the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the successes of other wellness champions. Invite leadership to acknowledge these contributions as well.
Are We There Yet?

Almost. Wellness champions can infuse your program with fun, humor, vitality, and creativity while moving your organization toward a culture of health. Think of them as highway helpers who assist and support employees on their journey to better health — providing guidance along the way and sharing information about what lies ahead.

Watch for our third and final installment in this series. We’ll address the employer perspective of wellness champion networks and how to provide training and recognition for long-term success.

References: Building a Wellness Champion Network. How to Harness the Power of Social Connections to Create a Lasting Culture of Health. StayWell.

About the Authors

Naketa Perryman, Wellness Program Manager at StayWell
Naketa builds and maintains a strong network of wellness champions to create a culture of wellness at their local business units. She received a BS in kinesiology and MS in exercise science from Mississippi State University.

Jordan Lamar, Program Manager and BP Wellness Education Manager at StayWell
Jordan a public speaker and travels across the country teaching various wellness topics. He received a BS in biology, exercise science, and nutrition.