I meet with HR professionals interested in implementing office walking challenges all the time. There’s plenty of generic guidance, like “Involve Senior Leadership” but there is so much more to creating and implementing a successful and engaging competition.
Why Aren’t People Interested in Keeping Fit?
Our friends at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have researched why nearly 2 out of 3 American adults don’t exercise. The top ten excuses:
- Not enough time
- It’s inconvenient
- Lack of motivation
- Hate exercise
- It’s boring
- Lack of confidence in their abilities
- Fear of injury
- Lack of goals
- Lack encouragement and social support
- Lack of facilities
A successful walking challenge is all about overcoming these obstacles and engaging your employees. The tactics for success come down to the culture and structure of the organization.
I’ve seen some companies make participation semi-mandatory (usually by requiring participation in 3 of 5 health initiatives or something similar). Others have gone the opposite direction, making everything optional and putting the emphasis on fun and teamwork.
I advocate implementing an office walking challenge and other fitness-related activities, as part of the overall employee engagement and wellness program. A company wide health challenge is a powerful tool to jumpstart an overall wellness program and motivate employees.
5 Keys to a Successful Walking Challenge
As part of a comprehensive corporate wellness program, with supporting efforts in education, exercise, healthy meals, biometric screening, etc., a corporate walking challenge is a fun and outcomes-based way to increase participation and spur enthusiasm. In fact, it may engage employees who otherwise may not have participated in such programs at all.
1. Keep it Short
The average adult attention span is barely eight seconds. Challenges lasting too long will drag and lose momentum. The ideal length of time for a company walking challenge is 6-8 weeks, long enough to ingrain new positive behaviors and discourage unhealthy choices. Go much longer and you risk boredom, burnout and lack of motivation.
2. Keep it Simple
Are you counting steps, speed and minutes? Too many variables to track on the leaderboard = lower motivation. That’s the opposite of what you want. Take advantage of technology to track progress and use one clear metric. Due to budgetary restraints, employees who already own a fitness tracker, and many other variables, it can be tough to run a challenge using only one type of device (like a Fitbit, for example). Try to seek out a solution that is device agnostic and can pull steps from numerous devices and directly from smartphones.
77% of people aged 18-24 responded “yes” when asked, “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone.” There’s probably a smartphone app walking challenge that can take advantage of that.
3. Eyes on the Prize
Keep any individual prize values to an amount is just enough to jump-start the motivation and participation. Don’t give enough to motivate dishonesty. An Apple Watch as a prize might be ideal, but I like all incentives to be fitness or health-related. It just makes sense.
SIGG water bottles (BPA and child-labor free!), personal trainer time, fancy running or walking shoes all tie into your office challenge. Make sure to align prizes to the behavior you are encouraging. This is no time to make the grand prize a new cushy gaming chair and a year’s supply of baby back ribs!
4. Keep Challenging Your Employees
Put fun events on the calendar quarterly for the most impact. Make the company walking event build each year with a pre-build up and then follow through to a charity challenge. Follow that with an office Olympics or triathlon, for example. Then cycle through a “Walk to Work challenge” and back again.
5. Align Your Other Programs
A corporate health challenge is not a wellness program in and of itself. Use competitions in conjunction with other programs, such as exercise classes, healthy eating coaching, health screenings, etc. In fact, weight loss, smoking cessation and other health improvement programs can see increased usage and ROI when matched with a well-designed walking challenge.
Supporting your company’s wellness programs with a fun and engaging office health challenge can jump start your participation and ROI, and walking challenges are an ideal way to encourage new healthy habits and build teamwork along the way.
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