The modern office is a marvel of productivity, but it’s also a marvel of inactivity. With the average office worker spending almost 1,700 hours in front of a computer screen—about six and a half hours per day—people are more sedentary than ever before. Inactivity is one of the biggest health challenges in the modern age, leading to a host of chronic ailments including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and musculoskeletal problems—all of which lower our quality of health while costing individuals and their employers enormous amounts of money.
Moreover, with millions of Americans working from home, the very definition of the office has changed. While employees might cheer the added flexibility, our collective wellness is suffering. Even before the pandemic, the CDC estimated that 80 percent of American adults were not getting the recommended amount of exercise per week. Now, without daily commutes, lunch breaks, watercooler chats, walk and talks, and other office traditions, we’re moving around even less. Over time, this inevitably leads to higher incidences of lifestyle-related diseases and escalating health insurance claims.
Studies routinely find that a simple daily walk can reduce the risk of stroke in both men and women, reduce the days spent in a hospital each year, and can even lower your risk of death by up to 39 percent when compared with little to no physical activity. Other analyses find that employees who are not physically active are less likely to be motivated and productive at work, not to mention take more sick days, contributing to a negative work environment.
Your corporate wellness program can help. By being proactive and incentivizing your employees to be more active in their day-to-day life, whether they are working at home or at the office, you are fostering a healthier, happier, and more productive work environment. This does not have to mean giving everyone a gym membership and hoping for the best. By designing a steps challenge at work, you can motivate employees at every fitness level to get healthy and have fun in the process.
What is a Step Challenge?
It’s as simple as it sounds: a walking challenge at work in which employees compete, either as individuals or as teams, to walk as many steps as they can throughout the day. Fortunately, you don’t have to count every single step; with Woliba, you can easily sync your Fitbit or smartphone, the vast majority of which have built-in pedometers that automatically keep track of your steps.
Each employee’s total daily steps will upload daily to a leaderboard, so everyone can keep track of who is ahead, creating a sense of motivation and competition. How long do you want your step challenge to last—a month? Two months? All year? It’s entirely up to you. As everyone competes, your organization will see greater morale and retention, while your employees will see improved cardiovascular health, increased immunity, reduced body fat levels, improved bone health, better endurance, and lowered risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and joint pain to name just a few chronic conditions.
Where to Start
It’s best not to drop an office walking challenge on your employees without some explanation. After all, walking seems so… ordinary. Many people simply don’t understand that you can see amazing health benefits without stepping foot in the gym or on the track. With even a cursory amount of education, including the information found in Woliba’s wellness library, your employees will be far more motivated to squeeze in those 5,000, 7,500, or even 10,000 steps per day.
Second, make sure everyone who wants to compete is able to. That means circulating a list of compatible fitness devices that sync with your wellness software. Don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options; when it comes to counting steps, you don’t need anything fancy. Any iPhone and the vast majority of Android smartphones can sync seamlessly with Woliba.
Understand the Barriers to Success
It seems simple, right? Walk 10,000 steps per day and you’ll stay in great shape. Except, it were that easy, we wouldn’t need step challenges to motivate us to hop off the couch. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly two out of three American adults don’t exercise. Here are the top 10 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
While planning and implementing your workplace walking challenge, you will have to address each of these barriers in some form or another. Fortunately, the gamification features of a wellness program like Woliba can take care of most of these for you.
For instance, create motivation and minimize boredom by fostering friendly competition. Make the barrier to entry low—all you have to do is walk—to address confidence issues that people face when considering an exercise program while making participating convenient. Choosing a longer timeframe, such as 30 days, also ensures people have time to participate. Walking is simple and easy, so even those who hate exercise, lack a gym membership, and try to avoid injury can join in without much fuss. Finally, a robust rewards program keeps participants goal-oriented, on-track, and recognized for their achievements.
Keep it Short
Why have a 30 day steps challenge when it can be 30 weeks? While extending the timeframe might be beneficial for organizations that have successfully implemented step challenges in the past and boast especially motivated employees, most organizations see the most success with short bursts of competition.
Simply, competitions that last more than a month or two can easily be forgotten. Life gets in the way, deadlines pop up, and the first thing likely to get pushed aside is a step challenge that doesn’t end for months. Shorter challenges create momentum and a sense of progress, helping to ingrain new positive behaviors and discourage unhealthy ones. Make your challenge too long and you risk boredom and burnout.
Keep it Simple
Movement challenges often get complicated, with multiple variables including steps, speed, and minutes. Adding multiple metrics not only makes it harder to plan, execute, and manage a wellness challenge, but makes it more difficult for employees to see who is winning. This can be a death knell for motivation and engagement.
Make sure you also do not rely on one source of data. Some organizations have been known to purchase wearable devices, such as Fitbits, for their entire workforce, therefore relying solely on one source of data for movement challenges. This presents countless problems, from convincing employees to wear a new device every day to troubleshooting tech problems. Keep it simple and rely on ubiquitous smartphone apps to do the hard work for you.
Make the Rewards Exciting
Imagine working hard every day to crank out 10,000 steps, hiking down the street in the rain instead of watching Netflix, and taking the steps instead of the elevator every day to win your company-wide movement challenge only to find that the prize is something lame, like a water bottle or fanny pack.
Second, make sure your prizes align with the positive habits you are trying to instill. So instead of gift certificates to Krispy Kreme or Cheesecake Factory, maybe opt for a gift card to the local athletics store, or a fancy running fleece.
Keeping employees motivated and engaged is the key to any movement challenge. Psychological studies tend to show that people respond far more to external motivation than internal motivation. If your steps challenge is composed entirely of individuals competing, participants are tasked with the responsibility of staying motivated and watching the leaderboard. On the other hand, if you, say, pit the accounting department against the marketing team against sales against the warehouse staff, you are harnessing the power of external motivation. When employees keep other employees on track to meet teamwide goals, you see far higher levels of engagement—and, therefore, better health all around.
Keep it Going
A corporate walking challenge is a great way to jumpstart good habits organization-wide, but for meaningful improvements in health to take root, you have to keep it going. Ask for feedback from your employees after your first step challenge is complete. What worked? What didn’t? Specifically, seek feedback for:
Length: Was the length of the challenge appropriate? Challenges that are too short don’t give enough employees enough time to gain their footing (no pun intended), while overlong challenges can lead to decreased engagement.
Atmosphere: Was the challenge inclusive? Was it too competitive? Not competitive enough? While step challenges are a great way to get your employees moving, you don’t want anyone to feel intimidated.
Rewards: Were employees satisfied with the rewards? A quality prize can make or break your step challenge. If your grand prize is a t-shirt, you might have a problem with engagement compared to, say, offering an Apple Watch.
Align Your Step Challenge with Other Health Initiatives
Finally, corporate walking programs should not exist in a vacuum. Your step challenge should be just one component of a multi-faceted, comprehensive wellness program that encourages positive habits from multiple angles. A step challenge should be used in conjunction with other programs, such as exercise programs, cooking classes, weight-loss seminars, health screenings, smoking cessation programs, and so on.
Your step challenge is a great way to introduce employees to wellness and promote teamwork, but the journey does not end there. With a full-service wellness program like Woliba, there are endless ways to integrate wellness challenges and other health initiatives to build a positive ecosystem of good health that reaches every level of your organization.