Does your workplace have wellness champions?
They can help you live better
Promoting health at work makes sense, because most US adults spend many hours working. Peer support of healthy choices at work would see to make sense. Researchers at the University of North Carolina outlined the attributes of workplace peer support programs. Employees volunteer as peer leaders and undergo training. Peer support typically features: 1) employee empowerment and self-efficacy to adopt healthy behaviors, 2) a participant-centered approach that addresses an individual’s interests and values in an “as lived” context, and 3) attention to current health concerns.
More recently, researchers at Ohio State University described the OSU workplace wellness champions program. Wellness champions have the moniker Buckeye Wellness Innovators. The program began in 2012 with the support of high-level university administrators. Nine dimensions of wellness underlie the program. The university recruits Wellness Innovators three times annually. Volunteers, after getting approval from their supervisor, attend a four-hour training. As of 2017, 464 Innovators enrolled. After training, Innovators meet with wellness program staff for a one-hour strategy session. Discussion topics include the environment of the department or unit, available resources, and examples of what other Innovators do to support department / unit wellness efforts. Innovators keep in contact with each other at biannual lunches and through informal channels.
That's nice, but does evidence support the idea that wellness champions can serve as an effective, low-cost intervention to improve employee health? The Mayo Clinic wellness champions program began in 2011. A Mayo employee survey showed that participants in the voluntary wellness champions program were more likely to: 1) agree that Mayo Clinic provides an environment that supports a healthy lifestyle (82.7 versus 69.4 percent), b) agree that co-workers support one another in practicing a healthy lifestyle (76.8 versus 53.7 percent), and 3) rate their overall health and wellness higher, compared to employees not familiar with the wellness champions program. Overall, employees in wellness champion activities increased their awareness of wellness opportunities, felt supported for having a healthy lifestyle, and rated their perceived health and wellness higher.
A follow-up survey in 2017 queried Mayo Clinic employees about meaning in work, work-life integration, and physical, social, financial, emotional, and general well-being. Employees who had a wellness champion consistently reported more positive opinions of the Mayo Clinic culture than employees who didn’t. Many of the survey items had more than a 10-percentage point favorable spread in responses between employees with and without a champion. For example, 85% of the employees with a champion agreed with the statement “Mayo Clinic provides support through resources and programs to help me lead a healthy lifestyle (nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc.) verses 73% of those without a champion. The presence of well-being champions predicted significantly better perceptions of Mayo Clinic as a desirable place to work. Does your workplace measure up to this?