One of the key elements of a successful employee wellbeing program is a robust network of Champions. More often than not, programs with defined Champions result in higher levels of enrollment, engagement and sustained participation thanks to the involvement of these vital contributors who promote their wellbeing programs and actively rally their peers.
Recently, I chatted with Leigh Ann Henderson, the Wellness Program Manager of Montgomery County Government, MD, Maryland’s award-winning employee wellbeing program, LiveWell, about the critical role wellbeing Champions play in its ongoing success.
Bryan Mahoney: How did you approach building and implementing a team of wellbeing Champions to support the LiveWell program?
Leigh Ann Henderson: Leading up to the LiveWell and Virgin Pulse program launch in September 2015, we felt that a strong team of champions from across the County was essential to support the launch, generate enthusiasm, and make sure employees knew that they were an important part of the program. We had a tremendous response and now have almost 100 Champions from across 30 departments and participating agencies.
It’s been an evolving process. It started out by bringing Champions together each quarter to make sure they were up to date with program information. The goal is to equip them in a number of ways, give them the tools to help drive program engagement, and assist with our wellness initiatives. We introduced a planning guide to help them creatively think through plans for the year ahead and within the structure of the program.
BM: What are the requirements to be a Champion?
LH: Interested employees start by applying online with the only requirement being that they be eligible to participate in the LiveWell program. The ideal Champion has a personal passion around wellbeing. We look for those who have the desire to live and breathe what LiveWell is all about. Our Champions are also all volunteers, so we remain respectful of the fact that they are willing to participate in addition to their regular work responsibilities.
BM: How does this team influence the overall success of your health and wellbeing initiatives?
LH: Our Champions are critical to the success of the program. With a workforce of 10,000 employees, working various shifts, across Montgomery County, we need to explore all necessary avenues to get the word out about LiveWell. We have a diverse employee population, both in terms of demographics and job type. Many of our employees work outside of an office setting, so just sending an email won’t cut it. We need to creatively think about communication and that’s where we couldn’t do it without our Champions. They are the eyes and ears of the program. They take feedback from their departments and share it with us.
BM: LiveWell Champions are encouraged to develop innovative ideas for new, cost-effective programming. What are some of the best ideas you’ve implemented?
LH: In one instance, a Champion had the idea of partnering with a local animal shelter to bring in pets for a day as a means of relieving stress. Another implemented the concept of “Athleisure” day in which employees were invited to wear work-appropriate fitness gear to work and take part in an on-site fitness class or lunchtime walk. We have created a training guide that suggests 50 free and low-cost ideas to help Champions continue to be creative, like healthy potlucks, “Sneaker Fridays”, and team challenges. Champion-led programs drive awareness of the LiveWell and Virgin Pulse programs and help build morale and engagement within their departments. The Wellness Champion program will continue to evolve and grow as the LiveWell program matures. We look forward to continually updating the resources and training for Champions to help meet the needs of employees.
BM: What recommendations do you have for other organizations interested in establishing a team of wellbeing Champions?
LH: Start at the top. It’s very important to have leadership and union support. For us, having our leaders buy in from the onset meant that each department knew that the wellness program was important – from the executive level to the employees.
Make being a Champion fun and engaging as opposed to feeling like another duty for your employees. You want to make sure it’s something people want to keep doing, so ask potential Champions to commit to a year – that way, you both can reassess at a later date. Continue to keep them engaged with tools and resources to help them plan. As you continue to grow and build the program remember to keep learning and adjusting along the way. Learn from the Champions and remain open to their feedback and employee suggestions.