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How to Use Informal Leaders to Engage Your Population

By Jessica Etheredge, CCWC, CPT | December 10, 2018 | Employee Well-Being

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You have tried and tried to engage your employee population, but you are only one person!  Wellness programming is one of many hats you wear, so having an effective communication strategy can be a daunting task or even nonexistent.  How can you get the word out about what’s going on in your wellness program and keep folks engaged?  Many times formal leadership forgets about the influential power of the informal leader. 

Are You Overlooking A Diamond In the Rough?  

What is an informal leader and how can you empower them within your wellness program?  Well, consider this.  An informal leader is someone within an organization or work unit who, by virtue of how he or she is perceived by their peers (or others in the organization), is seen as someone who is worthy of paying attention to or following.1

Think of those individuals who are so charismatic and outgoing that people want to listen to them. Why? Because they are easy to talk to, or maybe they exhibit certain knowledge and ideas that seem useful to the group. The informal leader can be the best leader in the group because of the fact that the group has naturally chosen him or her. 1

To effectively and efficiently promote wellness at your company, you need solid leadership. An informal wellness leader should be resourceful, energetic – and most of all – passionate about health and wellness. You may also want to consider those who have met some wellness milestone in their life that others can possibly relate to.

The Importance of Ambassadors 

It’s important to develop your informal wellness champions across your organization to serve as ambassadors of your program. These informal leaders can help encourage healthy habits in their departments and motivate employees to participate in wellness activities and, in some cases, depending on company size, promoting wellness shouldn’t be limited to one wellness leader.2

Informal leaders have some capabilities that more formal leaders do not, simply because they do NOT hold a position of designated authority. They can say things, for example, to other team members that could not be said by a person in an official management role, and their ability to influence is slightly different since informal leaders are often perceived differently than formal leaders.2

Here are a few ways to maximize those individuals you have identified and designated as wellness informal leaders:

Allow them to be the mouthpiece of the wellness program.

Be sure to clearly communicate to them the activities and events that are planned throughout the organization. Creating talking points can help support a clear and consistent message across the organization.

Communicate the “why.”

Not only is it important to communicate what is happening but why it is important. Informal leaders can help employees understand not just what is happening, but why it is important and personalize the message. 


Informal leaders can give insight as to what is really going on within your organization. Employees may communicate to them what they are unwilling to say to you or other formal leaders.

Stay connected.

Be sure to check in often with your informal leaders so that they can be heard and know that what they say matters. It’s also a great way to clarify messaging and even recognize them for their valued contribution.

It comes down to this. You want the support of rank and file employees, and informal wellness leaders can help bring that about.

Sources: [1] + [2]