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Leading the Way

Companies with strong leadership support for wellness have more success promoting the health and well-being of their employees. That is hard to dispute. In fact, leadership support is a foundational necessity for wellness to work at all. And yet, far too many organizations struggle to effectively engage the executive team and to gain the focus, commitment, and investment their wellness programs require to thrive.

Many of our recent member spotlight blogs have highlighted organizations that have total buy-in and support from leadership. It’s no coincidence these programs are all award winners. But what if the leaders in your organization aren’t totally bought-in and supportive of your wellness initiative? What if you haven’t been able to crack the code and turn your leaders into wellness enthusiasts like other organizations? It can feel daunting to attempt any wellness initiative without support at the highest level.

It’s not impossible to get leaders on board the wellness train, but it does take work. Let’s take a step back and examine several building blocks for gaining leadership support. For some of you, these will be timely reminders. For others, maybe these best practices can help you think differently about how you engage executives in your organization.

Listen to Them

Let’s start at the very beginning. Everything should start with a conversation and in the beginning, it’s your job to listen. In your initial conversations with leaders about wellness listen for these themes:
  • What outcomes would your leaders like to see from wellness efforts?
  • What are their preconceived notions?
  • Do they believe in wellness?
  • What are their biggest challenges and goals, both for wellness specifically, and generally for the business?
  • Do they have a firm grasp of what wellness is, what it can do, and how it works?
  • Do they have ideas or questions?
Combine one-on-one interviews with focus group efforts to gain the insights and feedback you need. Be sure to create an opportunity for deep, honest feedback.

Speak Their Language

One reason it is so important to listen to your leaders is so that once you do, you can speak their language. By placing wellness in the context of their priorities, you can make wellness relevant for them and a viable way for them to deliver on their responsibilities. How does wellness specifically support their goals? If you don’t position wellness within the major drivers of the business, you are missing an opportunity to elevate the standing of wellness among leadership. You have to connect the dots between what leaders are trying to accomplish and what wellness can offer.

Understanding the goals and values of your organization is essential for establishing common ground and showing your organization’s leaders that you want to support their goals through your wellness efforts.

Build a Strong Case

Are you a natural-born salesperson? That’s not likely. So, it is important to develop your ability to share your passion for wellness with conviction and confidence. Look for opportunities to sharpen your communication skill set, whether that’s a class, a workshop, or mentorship. There is both an art and science to convincing people to believe in your vision and support it. Be honest with yourself. If this is an area you need to develop, then invest in it.

One approach to building a strong case is to make wellness personal for your leaders. Ask them questions about their overall health? What resources are they looking for to protect their health? What barriers to wellness are they trying to overcome? Reminding them that wellness is for everyone can help make your arguments for wellness more convincing.

Expand the Value Proposition

The value proposition for wellness is expansive. A healthy culture full of happy, productive employees generates a wide variety of value. Make sure your leaders understand that an effective wellness program has a ripple effect that helps recruitment, retention, productivity, innovation, healthcare costs, and even directly impacts the bottom line by drawing more customers to your organization. Find ways to make the impact of wellness tangible.

Do this by supplying as much evidence about the success of worksite wellness programs as you can.

Provide Training and Tools

In many cases, the problem is not that leaders don’t believe in wellness, it’s that they don’t know how they need to be involved. To keep leaders engaged, it’s important to equip them with support, direction, and tools.
This involves:
  • Setting clear expectations
  • Expressing your needs
  • Providing training on wellness and how to talk about it
  • Providing communication and facilitation guides
  • Connecting leaders to networks of other executives that support wellness
  • Checking-in regularly

Hold Yourself Accountable

Even if no one is knocking down your door and demanding to see the latest results from the wellness program, report on it anyway. Set specific goals for your team and measure against them. Continue to hold yourself accountable and share progress even when others aren’t actively paying attention. This helps keep wellness top of mind and shows that you are outcome-driven and committed to results. It might take time, but this activity will ultimately be a rewarding one.

Find Your Wellness Champions

At the end of the day, wellness is not just a program or a department. You will need to weave wellness into the fabric of the culture. With this in mind, look for ways to build alliances and invested relationships with other teams or influential individuals across the organization. If you can get wellness champions on your team, you can create demand for wellness that extends far beyond what your program-specific efforts might be.
Utilize wellness champions to:
  • Look for ways to gather and share employee wants and needs
  • Find other teams who could benefit from an effective wellness initiative
  • Approach leadership collectively with ideas and request

Seize the Day

Take full advantage of our current moment in time. Organizations are realizing now more than ever how critical wellness really is. The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented demand for wellness solutions, both from executives as well as individuals. Will this demand for wellness solutions last for the long term? We hope so. But let’s not take that for granted. This is a big opportunity for wellness to be seen as a strategic imperative and to deliver tangible value.

As a wellness professional, this is your time to shine. It’s the moment we have all been waiting for. If ever your leadership team was open to big thinking and fresh ideas to support employees, it’s now. Don’t rush the process or compromise strategic thinking, but if you’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to make that big pitch or create urgency for wellness in your organization, now is the time.

Commit to the Campaign

Just like a marketer or politician you are campaigning for change and a choice. You’re asking leadership to choose you, and your wellness plans. As such, you should be strategizing and building a campaign, particularly if you’re nearing a critical time, such as budget season.

Here are some key considerations:
  • Firmly articulate your mission and vision for wellness.
  • Create a brand promise for the value that wellness can deliver.
  • Use strategic messaging, timing, frequency, and delivery method, i.e. email, in-person meetings, video conferencing.
  • Consider “who” delivers messages. Is it you or are there other influencers inside the company who can help you?
  • Make sure you understand your audience and have those insights integrated into your campaign. In many cases, you might have multiple personas to address, each of whom would benefit from specific messaging and marketing tactics.
  • Understand that this isn’t an overnight mission. It is a marathon of education and communication that you must commit to over time.

Keep it Real

A last piece of advice is, to be honest with yourself and your leaders. Wellness has to be delivered authentically. If your leaders don’t prioritize their employees and don’t genuinely care about the well-being of the workforce, you have a big challenge on your hands. This is a line in the sand for the culture you want to build and a key determinant of whether wellness can be a meaningful part of it. This is a values discussion that must be specifically addressed.

For support on how to have these types of conversations, check out the Become a Change Maker course on the WELCOA Institute.

Where Do I Go From Here?

How do you put this into practice? We’re glad you asked. Most of the tools needed to execute on the building blocks outlined above can be found within WELCOA member resources for developing Committed & Aligned Leadership. From playbooks to templates to worksheets, we can help you strategize and effectively guide your leaders to a greater appreciation of, and a deeper commitment to, wellness as a key initiative inside your organization.

If you are a current member, you can access leadership resources here.

If you aren’t yet part of the WELCOA family, click here to get started on your journey.