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Tips to gain middle-manager support for workplace wellness
Posted on Feb 11, 2013 | Written by Lucy Gilles-Khouri | Comments (0)
A recent Principal Financial survey found that 62% of American workers believe workplace wellness activities are successful in improving health and reducing health risks, up from 55% in 2011.
This survey also found 51% of program participants feel wellness benefits encourage them to work harder and perform better, and another 59% of program participants say they have more energy to be productive at work as a result of their participation in employer-sponsored wellness programs.
These results are encouraging, as they indicate a growing percentage of employees see value in participating. No doubt, however, these same workers who endorse workplace wellness have a critical foundational piece in place—support from their manager to participate.
In my 20-plus years in the employee health industry, I have seen first-hand how essential middle-manager backing is to engage individual employees in worksite wellness activities, especially if these activities occur on work time. Without reinforcement, or at least direct permission from immediate supervisors, employees oftentimes don’t feel it’s acceptable or important to participate.
To get the attention of middle managers and secure their support of a worksite wellness initiative, I have found several tactics that work. These include:
- Give middle managers special consideration. For example, allow them to sign up before everyone else for their screenings or provide them with their own session in advance of the general population screening time. Gather their specific concerns and feedback and hand it back to them as “talking points” for their employees about how it works.
- Show middle managers the big picture. It is not uncommon for middle managers to operate in a silo and only think about their department or division. Provide them with participation numbers as well as employee testimonials so they see how employees value the program. Share with them the same “sell” as might be given to the senior leadership about why getting employees healthier will pay off for the entire company in productivity and morale. Middle management often want to feel “in the know” about the business concerns and solutions. Many middle managers are concerned that if their department loses valuable production time they are not fulfilling their job in representing the business.
- Share program results (e.g., through screenings, 5% of employees discovered they had diabetes or 150 employees lost 1,500 pounds through the recent weight-loss challenge, decreasing the company’s future health care costs). If they know the impact the program has on their department/division, when appropriate, and on the company as a whole, it will demonstrate why it’s critical that they support it.
- Set up a departmental challenge among the supervisors, such as who can get the largest percentage of participation and provide them with “bragging rights” or a reward for that department/ division. Request senior leadership to issue the challenge for department participation. Set up a traveling trophy that can be passed around year to year, or challenge to challenge.
- Provide middle managers with speaking points and Q&A’s about upcoming wellness program activities to share with their staff. Keeping them in the loop helps build accountability to the greater good.
Have other ideas on how to engage middle managers? I welcome your comments below.
Lucy has extensive experience in health promotion, having worked in the managed care, health care and worksite wellness profession since 1980. She has consulted for, directed and managed programs for members of managed care and health care plans, and worked with employers to earn Well Workplace awards through the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA). Lucy is currently a health promotion manager for a HealthFitness client in Milwaukee.