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“Two heads are better than one”

We all know that saying, and most of us have also experienced the synergy that can come from working with a partner, whether we’re talking about work or play. Two people working together often have a better chance of solving a problem, crossing the finish line, hitting a deadline, or accomplishing a goal than one person working alone.

Well, it seems that this saying holds true for accomplishing fitness, health, and wellness goals too. When used properly, a buddy system can be extremely effective in helping your employees achieve their health goals. Below we’ve outlined some of the research behind why a buddy system works and how to successfully leverage this tool in your next office fitness challenge!

A Buddy System Can:

1. Improve chronic illness management

A 2012 study on diabetic veterans found that a peer support and mentoring program significantly helped manage glucose levels compared to standard care or external rewards such as money (source 1.). Having a buddy or peer support alongside a medical support team for employees who suffer from chronic illness could make the difference between average and excellent results.

2. Increase enthusiasm

A person’s motivation to perform is significantly and positively increased when he or she feels supported by a friend or peer (source 2.). When support comes from peers who have already been successful in healthy habits and lifestyle change, they will feel that much more inspired to accomplish similar successes.

But prior accomplishments aren’t a prerequisite for a successful buddy program. Having a partner that motivates you or whom you are motivating will help propel your dyad forward and create a “buzz” around the goals you’re trying to accomplish.buddy system accountability

3. Reinforce everyone’s positive behaviors

Buddies are mutually beneficial, not just because both parties are supporting each other along the way, but because the very act of support reinforces positive behaviors. When you’re supporting a friend, you automatically feel a pull towards modeling the behavior that you are encouraging. Your goals stay at the forefront of your mind because you’re helping someone else achieve theirs. In helping someone else, you’re also helping yourself.

4. Help hold people accountable

 Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the background of larger groups. However with a buddy, there’s only two if you. If you start to slack, your buddy is right there with you to pick you up and encourage you to keep going. When two people feel an equal amount of responsibility towards a common goal, you are both much more likely to be successful in reaching that goal. If you, as the employer, launch a step challenge and split the office into 5 different teams to create some friendly competition, make sure people have buddies within their larger teams. This will help ensure that all members of the team stay engaged and accountable.

5. Personalize a wellness program effectively and efficiently

When a buddy system is set up, each pair can discuss the type of support they will need from their peer. They can come up with a timeline that works with both of them without having to coordinate with the larger group. This type of planning is a collaborative process with the goal of bettering the participants’ lives in a way that feels right for them.

Take the step challenge example: Each group might have 8 to 10 team members, each with different work loads and different break schedules. With the buddy system in place, it’s much easier to stick to a consistent daily walking break than it is to buddy system coordinate one with the whole team. Having a buddy with similar schedules or preferences helps personalize the challenge so that it doesn’t feel like an extra burden to their daily lives.

It should come as no surprise that when utilized effectively, the buddy system can be hugely successful in creating an environment for your employees to successfully reach their health goals. A buddy helps create more enthusiasm around fitness challenges and helps employees hold  themselves accountable in a way that feels personalized and fun for everyone. Start incorporating the buddy system into all your office wellness challenges. You may find that it is the missing element that will help boost engagement and commitment among your employees.

Buddy System Resources:

  1. Long JA, Jahnle EC, Richardson DM, Loewenstein G, Volpp KG. Peer Mentoring and Financial Incentives to Improve Glucose Control in African American Veterans: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, March 20, 2012, vol. 156, pp. 416-424.
  2. Weiner HR. Group-Level and Individual-Level Mediators of the Relationship Between Soldier Satisfaction With Social Support and Performance Motivation. Military Psychology, 1990;2(1): 21-32.
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