Should Your Staff Lead Employee Wellness Program Initiatives?

When it comes to planning or revamping your wellness program, you know your end goal: You want your employees to engage and, ultimately, benefit. Is having your employees themselves run the show a smart strategy for getting there?

Here’s a look at how to draw on in-house talent to shape and execute your employee wellness program — and when it’s best to let the professionals do their job.

Letting Employees Take the Lead

Will encouraging employees to lead their own health initiatives boost interest in the program, or is it asking for trouble? Well, it depends. Pulling talent from within your organization comes with pros and cons.

First, the positives. Making your workforce an active part of deciding how to create a wellness plan that’s effective can renew interest in it, since employees may be more personally invested in the offerings. Plus, it saves money on hiring outside talent and contributes to an active culture of wellness throughout the workplace. Initiatives well-suited to employee leaders might include meal planning seminars, stress relief sessions, yoga or other exercise trends if someone would like to lead a short class. Employees can also effectively head or promote wellness challenges. Rather than keeping leadership strictly at the top or in human resources, having employees lead healthy eating or fitness challenges is a way to build friendly competition and interest from the ground up.

Encouraging employees to take the spotlight has a lot of positives — there’s a “but” hiding in the background, though. Co-worker dynamics can have a big impact on a wellness program. If employees only take the lead on activities they and their friends enjoy, the program will likely see a dip in participation as a whole. If you notice employees regularly feeling left out by activities they can’t participate in or avoiding lunches led by their co-workers, think about adjusting your strategy.

There’s also the question, for some subjects, of depth of knowledge. Turning an employee’s healthy hobby into a fun workshop could be well within their comfort zone, but for more technical topics like nutrition or financial wellness, it might be worth hiring outside talent. The same is true of physical activities where injuries are possible — a professional (preferably one with their own liability insurance) is probably your best bet.

Getting Employees Involved

To make it all work, leverage the strengths of both employees and outside experts. That also means accounting for possible problems ahead of time: Before opening the field to any and all ideas, you need to know the kinds of activities your employees want to see and what their health goals are. The easiest way to do this is with a survey. Once you have an idea of what topics are the most popular, you can start to establish additions to your program. Here are five steps to take.

  1. Introduce leadership opportunities to your employees. Clear communication is key to the success of any wellness program. Explain how to get involved as a wellness leader, the types of ideas you’re looking for and ways for employees to present their suggestions.
  2. Gather proposals. Whether it’s a suggestion box or an online form, have employees submit their ideas for what they would like to take charge of. Consider creating a form that limits the scope of ideas to those categories that received the most interest in your survey. Make sure there’s a space for employees to write a brief summary of what information they plan to present, how they want to present it and any space or equipment they will need.
  3. Vet ideas. Contenders should both meet employee needs and work with your current resources. Check the idea against your survey results — does it look like an in-demand option? Then ask practical questions: Do you have the space for the activity? If you need to provide some funds to help with supplies or incentives, are you budgeted to do so?
  4. Focus on inclusivity. Whenever possible, try to make sure those leading come from varying job functions and fitness levels to maximize participation and interest. For example, if someone wants to organize a team to participate in a 5K, try to form two teams: walkers and runners. That way everyone feels included, and you give more people the opportunity to sign up for the wellness program.
  5. Get the word out. When you have some activities to put on the calendar, make sure employees know when and where to show up, what they can expect to learn and whether you’re offering incentives. Communication should come from one consistent source, either a company leader or a human resources staff who has been leading the employee wellness program implementation and can endorse the initiative to help it attract attention.

Professionals can bring a high level of detail and expertise to your wellness program activities, but they also come with consulting fees and other costs. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid them entirely. But when done right, drawing on your employees’ talents can bolster your company’s culture of wellness and help you offer your employees exciting and useful wellness information in a supportive community so your bottom line can be as healthy as your workforce.

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