There’s a commonly held belief that married couples often end up resembling each other as they age. As it turns out, this may be true. Researchers who have studied married couples report spouses’ similar facial features are due to the decades of emotions they’ve shared.
But facial features aren’t the only things we share with those we are close to.
We often take on the attitudes, behaviors, and emotions of the people we surround ourselves with in both our personal and professional lives—and this can have a profound effect on our health and wellness.
Let’s look at four of these role model relationships and how they affect our well-being.
Arguably one of the most powerful influencers on health and wellness is family. Just how powerful is the family dynamic? One study found 67 percent of men were likely to become more active if their spouses were also active, yet only 26 percent would make that change without their spouse’s positive influence. (An excellent reason to include families in wellness programs!).
The reason is simple: Living together puts family members in a prime position to influence each other’s behavior, for better or for worse. If one spouse smokes, for example, it’s generally more difficult for the other spouse to ditch the tobacco habit. And if one spouse starts taking a walk after dinner, the other may join them. (Now, whether that participation is due to guilt or positive influence, it’s hard to say, but the result is the same: active steps toward healthy behavior.)
But an employee making conscious steps toward a healthy lifestyle isn’t always due to having a positive role model. Sometimes it’s because they want to serve as a positive role model for other family members.
Children look to their parents for how to live, how to act, and what to eat. Parents who grew up in a household of smokers may be determined to live tobacco-free, to model a healthier lifestyle for their kids. Although there may be a genetic component to some health issues, there’s also an environmental component that can either improve or worsen risk. And that’s where positive role models can make all the difference.
Gallup’s study on engagement found that managers account for up to 70 percent of the variance of their team members’ engagement in both work and wellness. That means when managers become engaged in wellness and model positive behaviors, they can shape the workplace environment, build supportive relationships, and encourage positive change.
These efforts don’t have to be complicated. Managers who conduct “walking meetings” with employees on the trails surrounding their campus show employees it’s not only OK to get away from their desk and move—it’s encouraged. If managers avoid sending emails on weekends and while on vacation, that sends the subtle message to employees that their off-hours should be for relaxation and recharging, not work.
Managers can also “walk the walk” by participating in all core wellness program activities, like completing health assessments, practicing techniques for managing stress and burnout, getting flu shots, and enrolling in coaching. Seeing their supervisor or manager encourage self-care promotes a culture of wellness and encourages lasting behavior change with employees.
It’s not just company leaders who serve an essential role in modeling wellness behaviors in the workplace. For maximum effectiveness, wellness initiatives need role models at all levels of an organization—and that includes co-workers. From choosing to bring in healthy snacks to a meeting or using breaks to take a walk, co-workers can directly influence the choices made in the workplace.
When employees share workspaces or cubicles, it’s sometimes hard to not notice what the other person is doing. And if they come back to their desk with a salad while you’re getting ready to pick up a double-burger combo meal with an upsized soft drink, you may give a second thought to your choices.
These close quarters are good for a little friendly competition, too. If an employer is conducting a step challenge and you’re just 200 steps behind Joe, what happens when you’re both headed to the same meeting and you see him take the stairs? You might just follow suit.
4. Wellness Coaches
Many corporate wellness programs offer employees the opportunity to talk with professional health and wellness coaches to set, monitor, and evaluate an employee’s progress toward goals.
These coaches are trained to listen closely and draw on their professional expertise to help the employee discover what might be holding them back from reaching their goals. They’ll also help employees set SMART goals (like eating a serving of vegetables four of seven days or walking 7,000 steps daily this week) and then hold that employee accountable for reporting back on their success the following week.
Some wellness coaches almost become therapists—helping clients uncover the underlying reasons for poor lifestyle habits, identifying their strengths and resources, and making them feel energized and confident about their goals.
Wherever we are and whomever we’re with, we’re surrounded by potential role models. Not only can these positive influences improve employees’ health and mental well-being, but it can also improve their productivity and focus. It’s an easy investment—you’re simply leveraging the positive qualities people already possess—when you’ve got the right partner to get you started.
If you’re considering adding coaching to round out your corporate wellness program and give your employees access to a positive role model, download WellRight’s free e-book, "To Coach, or Not to Coach: Coaching and Your Corporate Wellness Program."