By Stefan Gingerich, M.S., senior research analyst, StayWell

History has shown how powerful a social or grassroots movement can be. Think about last year’s ALS ice bucket challenge. No one really organized that. It just sort of happened. Or perhaps voting rights movements around the nation and the world, going back hundreds of years. Also grassroots. So it makes sense that now the worksite wellness industry is tapping into this technique in the form of wellness champion networks.

This strategy has actually been around for a while, with a few StayWell clients having a champion network in place for over 15 years, but more and more employers are recognizing the potential impact of the social influence of wellness champions. In fact, almost 70 percent of StayWell clients had a wellness champion network in place in 2014, and this number is expected to increase in the future.

A wellness champion network is a group of employees who work together to improve the health and culture of the workplace in conjunction with an employer-sponsored wellness program. Wellness champions accomplish this by socially connecting with others and helping to educate coworkers about program offerings. It’s important to note that wellness champions are not medical experts or health insurance consultants, and often they have limited experience with the more complicated sides of health and health care. What they do have is a passion for making their workplaces healthier places to be.

Whether you’re an employee who has a passion for health (regardless of how fit and healthy you currently are), or if you’re an employer or benefits professional, here are a few things you should know:

  • Wellness champions generally volunteer for this role; it is not part of their paid position.
  • The number of wellness champions at any one company can vary greatly—from a handful to hundreds—depending on the company size and number of worksites.
  • The one essential characteristic a wellness champion should possess is a passion for good health.
  • A wellness champion network will be most successful when the workplace culture supports health and when leadership is actively involved.

One common misconception is that wellness champions can only be those employees who are already running marathons or at their ideal weight. This is not the case. Whether a champion aims to lose weight, or become more active or if they’ve already achieved a few of their health goals,they need to understand the value of a healthy workforce. It also helps if they’re willing to support the mission of corporate wellness programs and share both their passion and experiences with others. These are individuals who truly embrace the notion of “walking the talk” and strive to be a positive health role model to their peers.

If you’re interested in becoming a wellness champion, talk to your employer or human resources department. If you’re looking to establish a wellness champion network at your workplace, reach out to your StayWell representative or email us today.