How to Create a Culture of Support Using Wellness Champions

Employee wellness is a top priority for leaders, but supporting staff is not a one-person job.

The well-being of staff is of paramount importance in any workplace setting, especially in healthcare where distress impacts the health of providers along with their patients. Clinician burnout is a serious problem, and maximizing employee health must be a top priority for leaders in medicine. Improving conditions and reducing the likelihood of burnout is not a one-person job, however. Organizational leaders responsible for supporting staff need to rely on wellness champions within the organization to create meaningful change.

What are wellness champions?

Having one person within a healthcare institution or health system who is focused on provider well-being is positive, but ultimately impractical. That one person cannot be responsible for the well-being of hundreds or thousands of clinical staff. That’s where wellness champions come in.

Wellness champions are members of your team from throughout the organization tasked with aiding in the implementation of your well-being initiatives. Depending on your organization’s needs and goals, wellness champions can take many different roles. They could be trained in recognizing symptoms of burnout and offering the right support. They could be team leads in charge of boosting participation within their department or disseminating key messages and communication from the top down.

Wellness champions can also lead by example, looking after their own well-being and reaching out for help when they need it through the organization’s resources, such as seeing a counselor or psychotherapist. Dealing with long hours and critically ill patients is wearing on even the most resilient clinicians. Wellness champions help take the stigma out of approaching a mental health professional, promoting the service in a positive light, and removing the fear of repercussions from seeking support.

Educating several motivated members of the healthcare team helps to create a culture of support that spreads throughout an entire organization. Healthcare organizations can also work with respected wellness partners to understand which aspects of the system as a whole need adjusting to better support your network of wellness champions and the wider healthcare workforce.

creating A Culture of Support

How do wellness champions make such a difference to the well-being of your employees? Studies indicate that change within a healthcare setting is most successful and valued when the whole organization has input into the changes being made. Wellness champions allow you to provide employees with a voice, and to feel supported and cared for. Wellness champions can also network with each other, sharing information on the most common pain points within the organization and feeding those back to healthcare leadership. This could lead to systemic changes within the organization that help everyone and promote holistic well-being across the entire workforce.

CommonSpirit Health, the second-largest non-profit health system in the United States, recently implemented a system-wide wellness program to prioritize the mental health and fulfillment of their physicians. From the beginning, CommonSpirit’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Keith Frey knew they needed to utilize wellness champions. One of the first steps taken was to launch the Well-Being Index, a widely used well-being assessment tool invented by Mayo Clinic. This assessment would provide critical insight to help guide further action. However, Dr. Frey wouldn’t be able to effectively utilize the data alone. To help disseminate the assessment results, communicate their strategy, and plan future initiatives, Dr. Frey turned to department leaders throughout the health system.

“I couldn’t personally reach out to 5,000 doctors,” Dr. Frey explained. “Knowing this, I switched our focus to educating the physician leaders within our organization. The data we could retrieve from the Well-Being Index proved immensely helpful in leading conversations with these champions and arming them with the evidence to continue the discussions with their staff. Their goal was to keep this topic top-of-mind and continue to build a culture of support.”

By equipping these wellness champions with anonymous assessment data, CommonSpirit leadership was able to grow the awareness and support needed among their teams.

The Benefits of Wellness Champions

Implementing a wellness program with wellness champions to support it creates a workforce that functions better, communicates better, and delivers better patient outcomes. It also attracts top-level talent, with higher caliber physicians more likely to want to work with an organization that demonstrates a level of care for its employees.

One study of 2,641 physicians showed that over a quarter had symptoms of anxiety, and over a quarter were depressive – with a fifth displaying characteristics of both conditions. Physicians in this study admitted they weren’t reporting when they felt ill, either physically or mentally. Creating a culture of openness and support encourages physicians to become great patients as well, asking for help and talking to someone when they need to.

Wellness champions can be that first port of call, helping physicians stave off the negative effects of burnout by helping them feel supported and encouraging them to seek assistance. They can point physicians in the right direction to get the support they need, but can also encourage open and honest conversations about what’s affecting them within the organization or healthcare facility. Utilizing a group of motivated team members to rely information and drive changes department by department can lead to cultural change that prioritizes the well-being of staff and patients.

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