Health coaches and champions: Advocating for your employees

a women seeking advise from a health coach

Providing quality employee health benefits is just the beginning of taking good care of your people. As a leader, you must also ensure they maximize those benefits — for their personal well-being and a healthier workforce overall.

Simple actions, like encouraging each employee to create an account in the insurer’s portal, can open up a world of better health. Self-service tools make it easier to understand what care they need and where to find it.

A lot of employers stop there. But you shouldn’t. There is still more to do if you want to advocate for good health in the workplace.

Health coaches are a built-in bonus

Many insurance companies provide access to health coaches as part of their benefits offering. Health coaches specialize in conditions like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other chronic concerns — such as stress reduction, smoking cessation, alcohol use, and recovery after a serious health event. 

These team members provide another layer of care between the member and their doctor and serve as accountability partners. They add value to employee health benefit plans — including tangible savings.

A six-month study of health coach usage, noted in The New York Times, showed savings of $412 per patient per month. Patients were able to avoid provider visits and reduce medication use by working with their health coaches to model positive health behaviors.

A second study outlined the clinical effectiveness of an evidence-based, technology-enabled lifestyle health coaching program. Participants represented a diversity of populations and were able to achieve improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), and cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF).

Health coaches provide the encouragement and motivation that patients need to take positive steps forward. They build trust over time and guarantee full confidence and privacy. What makes health coaches even more effective is when they have the backing of health champions within the employer’s organization.

Health champions create real change

Health champions — also known as wellness ambassadors — provide in-house support for fellow employees. They promote healthier lifestyles and find new ways to inspire others to take advantage of available benefits and take a personal stake in helping co-workers feel better in mind, body, and spirit.

“You want to embed folks who can direct their peers to the right resources and help them find their way to better health,” says Veronica Villalobos, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Allegheny Health Network (AHN).

“Some health champions are a natural fit because of their long tenure and wisdom as peer leaders. Others serve in the role from a diversity and inclusion perspective to help create parity in health and wellness. It’s all about making employees’ lives easier, so they can be more productive. When someone is sick or struggling with something outside of work, they can't be their best self.”

Health champion programs are often rooted in HR with a focus on employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention. They can also be a product of the DEI team and the company’s Business Resource Groups (BRGs), reflecting the employee population and surrounding communities.

Organizations ranging from consulting firm SAP to consumer goods company Mars, Inc. have found success with different approaches. The program you create depends on several aspects, including company size, number of locations, multinational considerations, type of business, financial investment, and related factors.

Advocating for one another

Integrating health coaches and health champions into the workplace is another way that employers can advocate for their people.

“What will make the biggest difference is if the coaches and champions can create trust in the health benefits plan and the in-house programs,” concludes Villalobos. “The more transparency, the more likely your employees are going to be to take full advantage of the offerings. Trust leads folks to believe that their employer has their best interests in mind — no matter who they are, what role they play, where they sit, or what their health needs may be.”

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