Competency-Based Wellness Champions

Posted by Joel Bennett on

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence. --Abigail Adams

In the long history of (humanity) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. --Charles Darwin

Competency-based wellness champions can benefit from deliberate learning experiences that encourage improvisation and collaboration.

My experience (and research) tells me that most people have less stress, and become and stay healthy because of their community: family, friends, and coworkers. But most workplace wellness programs neglect the powerful role of social support. These programs persuade workers to know their numbers (e.g., for weight); use apps and computers; and practice healthy habits all on their own.

HELP THOSE IN THE TRENCHES. Millions of dollars are spent on "outside-in" strategies that rely on external vendors and tools. Yet, it is inside the trenches -- in daily peer-to-peer interactions -- where many workers learn from each other, encourage each other, and get healthy as a team. This occurs in spite of the program, the vendors, and the tools, not because of them. There are champions (quiet revolutionaries) afoot!  And I think they can use some help deliberately building their competencies in order to excel at nurturing a wellness culture. Unfortunately, many HR Directors and Wellness Coordinators leave this training to chance or are somewhat casual in their approach.

RESEARCH 'SAYS' SO. Research and best practices suggest champions are critical [1], the role of social networks in nudging health is clear [2], and champions appear to be key to engagement [3].  There is even some indication that wellness coaching from peers may be just as effective as a such coaching from professionals [4] and weight loss appears greater in team-involved weight loss campaigns [5].

LET'S BE INTENTIONAL. It is time to use these insights and be more intentional at uplifting, supporting, and (yes) training the everyday worker (and those who might oversee or support him/her) as a champion to self and others. HR Directors and Wellness Coordinators can benefit by being more strategic, planful, and intentional in building the competencies of champions. This is the "inside-out" approach. By inside-out I mean emphasis on personal strength ("raw coping power") and the social community where the focus on wellness is about the common good and the team. Daniel Stokols and colleagues concept of moral capital is relevant here, with recent research suggesting that  organizational virtuousness may lead to well-being (cf. "heart-centered leadership"). The late Toni Yancey described the importance of viral marketing through social circles where small improvements and informal communications are a necessary step; and Judd Allen points to a sense of community as key to wellness culture change. Our company (OWLS) has also taught work peers how to encourage each other through both team awareness and team resilience.



YOU ARE INVITED TO NEW TRAINING. So inside-out means: (1) a sense of organizational virtue or purpose, (2) a willingness to participate informally in sharing positive ideas and behaviors around wellness, and (3) a sense of community. Each of these three factors will comprise our next certification training starting this September and ongoing. Yes! You are invited!

PREVIOUS TRAINING. This past summer I co-presented on three case studies where we built wellness and prevention champion competencies for different organizations. You can see the slideshare here. There were many take-away insights and tips from over 10 years of work. Here are some of them:
  1. Start with a focus on champions' own wellness, self-efficacy, and vision for service (virtue).
  2. Identify core competencies (in your culture) for informal and formal wellness champions. Then, build a curriculum that supports the development of these competencies.
  3. You can use web-based (asynchronous) e-learning to train champions. But, it is important to distinguish those who have an informal versus formal role and to provide additional webinar (live interactive) support to those with an informal role.
  4. If someone has an informal role as “champion”, question how you need to make it a formal role.
  5. Know how people came to their role; that is, either 'told to', 'had to' as an admin, or 'want to'. Each path is workable, requiring a different competency set. Meet champions at their capacity, giving opportunities to interact in a community of practice (e.g., buddy coaching). Regardless of their path, each champion has the capacity for growth, so make sure you nurture it!
  6. Recognize organizational size impacts competency requirements. For example, in large, corporate (decentralized) systems, the competency of partnerships and collaborations becomes increasingly important. This is especially important if you are trying to coordinate a program across multiple locations or geographic regions.
We will be sharing these and many more PRACTICAL insights (with associated tools and support, support, support) in our upcoming champion certification training. Please join  us if interested in learning with (in the words of Abigail Adams) ardor and diligence or you like to (in the words of Charlie Darwin) improvise and collaborate.

 Don't leave the critical area of champion competency to chance.

  REFERENCES: [1]  Goetzel, R. Z., Shechter, D., et al.  (2007). Promising practices in employer health and productivity management efforts: Findings from a benchmarking study. Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine, 49, 111–130; NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) (2008). Essential elements of effective workplace programs and policies for improving worker health and wellbeing.;  Berry, L. L., Mirabito, A. M., & Baun, W. B. (2010). What’s the hard return on employee wellness programs. Harvard Business Review, 88(12), 104-112; [2] For example: Christakis, N. A., & Fowler, J. H. (2009). Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. Hachette Digital, Inc.. [3] Linnan, L. A., Fisher, E. B., & Hood, S. (2013) The Art of Health Promotion Editor’s Desk: Tapping Passion: The Untold Talents of Wellness Champions, Ambassadors, and Peer Educators. Art & Science of Health Promotion.  Seymour, A., & Dupré, K. (2008). Advancing employee engagement through a healthy workplace strategy. Journal of health services research & policy,13(suppl 1), 35-40 [4] Obesity. 2013 May;21(5):928-34. A randomized controlled pilot study testing three types of health coaches for obesity treatment: Professional, peer, and mentor. Leahey TM(1), Wing RR. [5] Leahey, T. M., Kumar, R., Weinberg, B. M. and Wing, R. R. (2012), Teammates and Social Influence Affect Weight Loss Outcomes in a Team-Based Weight Loss Competition. Obesity, 20: 1413–1418. doi: 10.1038/oby.2012.18; also see Witherspoon, D. (2012).  Team wellness challenges: Energizing engagement, inspiring change. White paper. Retrieved from Health Enhancement Systems ( Accessed December 26, 2012.

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