Enabling Middle Managers to Make Wellness Initiatives a Success in a Remote Environment


As an HR leader, you’ve likely implemented a wellness initiative in the past and know that middle managers can make or break their success.

These managers directly influence the work day experiences and wellbeing of remote teams and are the key to achieving widespread adoption of wellness program participation within an organization, but they’ve got a lot on their plate, making it challenging for them to find the motivation to prioritize and promote a wellbeing program in addition to leading their team to reach departmental goals.

In this article, we’re looking at the common challenges HR leaders face in getting buy-in from middle managers to adopt wellness initiatives for their teams and strategies to help overcome them.

Challenges for middle managers

Just because your organization implements a well-being program, it doesn’t mean your employees will embrace it with open arms. A RAND Health research report estimated that in the USA, 51 percent of employers that have 50+ employees offer a wellness program, but as many as 80 percent of employees choose to opt out of these programs.

These numbers suggest that HR leaders face challenges on how to get buy-in from middle managers to encourage their teams to participate.

Some of the key problems we see HR and middle managers facing include:

  • They don’t understand how employee wellness is related to their departmental goals in the long run
  • There isn’t a personal professional motivation to promote wellness, or a sense of “what’s in it for me? For example, is promoting their team’s wellness part of their performance review?
  • It’s not clear how wellness initiatives tie into company values, or if c-suite is bought-in as a result
  • They haven’t yet seen recognition of other managers promoting wellness among their teams and receive praise from peer and leadership
  • They don’t feel equipped to promote the wellness plan effectively or see how their team can really benefit
  • They don’t feel it’s their job to promote wellness

Let’s take a look at a few more of these challenges in detail, and how HR leaders can motivate middle managers to promote company-wide wellness initiatives.

Balancing leadership’s employee wellness expectations and reality

Middle managers are typically tasked with balancing expectations and goals set by the leadership team, as well as managing the well-being and satisfaction of their remote teams. 96% of managers feel they should have some responsibility for employee well-being, but there are often gaps between their goals and reality.

It can be difficult to translate company expectations into actionable strategies that can be integrated into the day-to-day routines of remote employees — especially where wellness initiatives are concerned.

Juggling too many responsibilities

Middle managers might find it difficult to dedicate sufficient time and attention to planning and executing well-being initiatives for their teams. 

With daily tasks including project management, performance assessments, team development, conflict resolution, and more — the sheer volume of tasks on a middle manager’s to-do list is already overwhelming, making it tricky to carve out extra time to plan out a wellness program. So despite its importance for employees, well-being can often get pushed aside in favor of more pressing tasks.

Remote team dynamics

Middle managers may find it difficult to create a sense of team connection and community when many employees only get a couple of hours of overlap time to connect with their colleagues during their work day. 

Many wellness initiatives rely on a strong sense of community and connection to be successful, so if middle managers are not given wellness programs and initiatives that overcome the issue of time zone and location differences, they may not make the effort to promote them if they feel they simply won’t work. 

By taking these challenges into account, and developing strategies to overcome them, organizations can give their middle managers the tools, training, and support to successfully implement and prioritize remote wellness initiatives that work. 

How to get wellness initiative buy-in from middle managers 

The key to a successful wellness initiative is to get middle managers fully on board with the idea of a wellness program, and then keep them motivated to drive these programs forward. 

In order for wellness programs to be successful, managers need to view themselves as wellness champions who effectively give direct permission for their team members to engage in wellness activities. 

6 out of 10 remote employees say they feel guilty about taking breaks during their work day, so middle managers have a unique opportunity to step in and say that this is okay, and encouraged.

To get to the place of managers and team leaders being enthusiastic wellness champions, a few key things need to take place:

  • C-Suite needs to be clearly and visibly bought into wellness initiatives
  • Wellness programs need to be clearly linked to the company values and communicated broadly
  • Managers and people leaders need to be recognized company-wide for their contributions and achievements in promoting employee wellness
  • Employee wellness needs to be included in performance reviews with clear expectations for managers to promote wellness among their teams

A step-by-step process to engage middle managers to promote wellness initiatives

Getting middle managers on board with driving wellness initiatives can be quite straightforward with the right approach. 

Let’s take a look at how HR leaders can engage middle managers to drive employee wellness initiative engagement with a step-by-step approach.

Step 1 – Get buy-in from C-Suite

Ensure you have buy-in from the C-Suite to directly engage with middle managers to drive wellness program adoption. 

Step 2 – Prepare written communication

Prepare written communication announcing the initiative to enable middle managers to drive wellness program adoption.

This might include:

  • Why wellness initiatives are important to the company and how they tie into company values
  • How wellness initiatives can positively impact their department
  • How successfully driving wellness initiatives can help their own career progression within the company
  • What wellness initiatives are available to them
  • Actionable steps they can take to take make the best use of the wellness programs available 

Send individual communications, but also promote this in your managers’ internal communication channel as appropriate.

Step 3 – Strategize

Strategize on how you’re going to meet with your middle management to discuss with them what is outlined in Step 2.

What will this look like? Do you already have standing meetings with team leaders, or is there a better way to meet and connect with them?

Based on the size of your company, decide on the meeting structure that makes the most sense for you. Ensure meeting attendees have reviewed the communication from Step 2 prior to the meeting so they can come with questions. 

Depending on the unique needs for each manager to each department, different features of wellness programs may be more important than others to highlight. Customize the content of each meeting depending on your audience when possible. 

When preparing the agenda for each meeting, make the outcomes are clear; to address objections and concerns they have around being able to promote wellness initiatives, to answer any questions they have, to help familiarize them with the tools available and to assist them in coming up with a wellness strategy for their team that they can easily execute. 

Be prepared in the meetings to discuss each wellness initiative available (if focusing on more than one) and practical steps people leaders can take to use them with their teams. Are they able to run wellness challenges for their team? Can they connect their team through a live well-being session? 

Step 4 – Follow-up with next steps

Follow-up with clear next steps for your meeting attendees.

  • Provide a detailed written recap of the meeting as well as the meeting recording if possible (platforms like Grain make this easy)
  • Outline next steps for meeting attendees, customize these communications as needed to each departments’ needs
  • Acknowledge objections and feedback outlined and offer clear solutions for them or a timeline on when you can address them
  • Point to where to find the resources discussed
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting to gather feedback and check in on progress after they have tried the wellness programs for their teams

Arm your team leaders with the right materials and tools to help them move forward effectively after the meeting. Along with giving middle management some budget to promote and implement wellness plans, or to use for employee incentives, middle managers should be given essential tools to use, along with clear directions on how to use them.

For example, they could implement  well-being breaks just for their team, run a wellness challenge for their department as a team, or start and end department meetings with stretching or gratitude sessions.

Providing middle managers with written promotional materials, scripts, and other digital content to help drive the initiatives will make a world of difference in making it easier for them to do so. The last thing they need is more work piled into an already busy work day, so giving them resources they can easily weave into internal communications can help them stay on track.

Step 5 – Tie wellness efforts to bigger business goals

When it comes time for middle managers to have their one-on-one meetings with upper management and leadership, you can suggest an agenda item to check in and see how well-being is going for their team. This way, everybody is brought into the progress of the wellness program and how the outcomes impact employees.

To keep up momentum, middle managers need to be kept in the loop about the success of any wellness program company-wide, and this should be tied to how their engagement has positively impacted it. 

Track this success over time, and compare it to performance and other metrics related to the team so middle managers can see a tangible return on their efforts.

Step 6 – Reward and recognize your middle managers!

Make sure that recognition is given where it’s due for middle managers who go the extra mile to get teams and employees participating in wellness programs. This will reinforce the value of wellness initiatives in your organization, and also acknowledge the crucial role that middle managers play in their success.

A little recognition goes a long way in sustaining middle management’s motivation and commitment to wellness!

Related: How to Implement a Wellness Program at Work

How middle managers can use Bright Breaks as a connection tool

For leaders looking for wellness activities that can engage their remote teams, Bright Breaks can act as an effective connection tool. We’ve designed our platform to have maximum positive impact on employee wellness — with minimal legwork for HR and middle managers!

Attending 7-minute virtual wellness breaks as a team can help:

  • Boost team engagement
  • Strengthen social connections
  • Promote the importance of wellness
  • Give employees permission to take regular breaks during their work day

With Bright Breaks, middle managers can also encourage team involvement with wellness challenges and incentives, and incorporate wellness into their one-on-ones. 

Implementing Bright Breaks is straightforward and effective, and managers can easily schedule team breaks around existing meetings and workloads for maximum attendance. All that’s needed is to sign up to Bright Breaks, choose a suitable break, and then book it for your team.

The act of collectively pausing teamwork to engage in a 7-minute break not only reinforces the importance of taking regular pauses for physical and mental well-being, it also gives employees the opportunity to interact with each other in a relaxed, fun setting.

As well as using Bright Breaks to schedule breaks, middle managers can also monitor participation and gather feedback from employees. Tracking engagement levels of wellness challenges, individual breaks, and other metrics over time can help middle managers demonstrate the benefits and ROI of this wellness program to leadership. 

In summary

Middle managers are in a unique position to directly impact the daily workplace experiences and well-being of employees, making their role crucial in the implementation and promotion of wellness programs. But between balancing leadership goals, managing day-to-day team workloads, overcoming remote communication barriers, and making sure employees are productive, it can be difficult for these managers to prioritize and champion wellness initiatives effectively. 

The success of wellness initiatives in a remote environment is a collaborative effort, and middle managers need to be equipped with the right resources to help them champion these programs so they can develop a positive and health-focused work culture. 

With better strategies and tools, middle managers can become powerful wellness advocates, and it doesn’t need to be a chore for them. Wellness apps like Bright Breaks were designed to help middle managers promote and encourage team wellness, and encourage employees to take short, interactive breaks at their desk throughout the day to keep them refreshed and focused. 

Learn more about Bright Breaks here.

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What you should do now

  1. Promote best practices for remote worker health with free copy/paste, pre-written scripts you can post every week in your internal communications channels.

  2. Learn from top HR & People Leaders about the latest strategies to keep your remote workforce happy, healthy, and connected on The Virtual Vibe Podcast.

  3. Contact our sales team to discover the benefits of our built-for-the-workplace wellness solution, compared to B2C offerings like Calm or Headspace.
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