Why Buddy Programs Work and Why They Don’t

Peer support can mean the difference between success and failure in many endeavors: academics, athletics, health habits, work projects. A particularly effective approach is the buddy program model, where groups of 2 work together to achieve shared or similar goals. But it’s not as simple as just saying “buddy up.” Buddy programs work for health behavior change most often when:

Individuals pair up voluntarily based on reciprocal friendship.

Social media has given rise to lots of faux friendships — “friends” who are really acquaintances. For best results, health buddies should be actual friends who engage offline as well as on, not just someone from the Facebook list.

Buddies are peers.

If deep friendships aren’t possible in your scenario, aim for buddies to be peers in terms of social sphere — with as many mutual friendships as possible.

They’re physically near each other.

Virtual buddies can work, but the opportunity for face-to-face interaction is better. Consider bonus points for shared walks, meals, etc.

Recognition is as much about the support you give as the goals you achieve.

Being supportive of a friend’s efforts to improve health habits significantly ensures your own success. You automatically model the behavior you’re supporting.

The goals are truly shared, not 2 individual goals added together.

Unlike teams of 4+, buddy programs should have a higher dependence on each other (when one falls short, they both fall short). Shared goals eliminate social loafing (“I can take a day off because my teammates will pick up the slack.”) Note: social loafing occurs most often in teams with more than 5 members.

Buddies have insight on how to support each other.

This covers preparing, getting started, staying on track, and finishing strong.

For more information about buddy programs, view the Health Enhancement Systems SlideShare: Energize Your Wellness Program With Buddies.


Dean WitherspoonDean Witherspoon
Chief collaborator, nudger, tinkerer; leads the most inventive team creating well-being and sustainable living programs. Reach out if you’d like to talk about employee well-being, emotional fitness, or eco-friendly living.

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