Employee fitness equals free money for your company.
Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Organizations who invest in health and wellness actually save money by reducing healthcare costs and curbing lost productivity due to absenteeism.
The Harvard Business Review found that employers who invested in comprehensive health and wellness initiatives saw a nearly 3-to-1 return in money saved. A more focused study demonstrated that ROI was closer to 6-to-1.
That’s some serious ROI.
Fitness challenges can be a great way to get your employees excited about wellness. In fact, an office fitness challenge can be the cornerstone of a comprehensive wellness program – but only if it’s done right.
You see, it’s not as easy as sending a mass email about an upcoming 5k and calling it a day. Fitness challenges have to be engaging. The last thing you want is to invest your time, money, and energy in a fitness challenge that gets zero participation.
So stick with us. We’ll help you design a fitness challenge that your employees will rave about.
And since budget is always a factor, all the tactical advice we provide is budget friendly. Here’s how to create a killer fitness challenge, whether you’ve got an Amazonian budget…or something a bit more modest.
Tip 1: Take a Grassroots Approach
Yes, buy-in from executive leadership is a must, but you can’t take a top-down approach to fitness challenges. A mandated wellness program simply won’t work.Mandated wellness programs simply don’t work. Click To Tweet
A grassroots approach works best. In practical terms, this means your fitness challenge must be employee-led.
It all starts with listening. Find activities that the majority of your team already enjoy, or are interested in trying out.
This might be something as challenging as a marathon, or it might be something as simple as yoga or Pilates. It might even be something exotic like rock climbing or surfing. (Side note, climbing is all the rage at SnackNation these days.) You won’t know until you ask.
Action Step – Create an Employee Fitness Panel
Create a panel of employee leaders and find out what fitness activities interest them.
Identify your team’s most passionate fitness advocates from across your org and empower them to drive the information gathering that will help inform your plan.
You’ll be much more likely to come up with something that has widespread appeal.
Tip 2: Don’t Rely on a One-Size-Fits-All Solution
Just as you can’t mandate participation, you can’t rely on a one-size fits all approach.
Think about it – your employees are diverse! You likely have employees of varying ages, fitness levels, and physical abilities, so you’ll need to bake in some flexibility as you design your challenge.
Take us for example. At SnackNation, we have team members who regularly compete in Ironman Competitions. We also have employees who haven’t stepped foot in gym in years (and the thought of doing so scares me a little… I mean them. Scares them a little).
Keep in mind, the point isn’t to cater to those you are already active. It’s much more important to motivate those for whom fitness isn’t all that high on their priority list. That’s where your plan will have the biggest impact.
Action Step: Create Options
Offer a way for employees to choose an activity that aligns with their comfort level. For instance, don’t just organize participation in a marathon. Allow employees to choose a half-marathon, 10k, or 5k.
Tip 3: Set a BHAG
If you speak jargon, you might know that the acronym BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It’s usually used to describe a company’s big business or philanthropic goals, but the term is just as relevant for your workplace fitness challenge.
By definition, a BHAG is a stretch goal. It’s something that’s beyond your team’s current capabilities and that will require them to grow as individuals and break through their perceived limitations.
The best way to do this shoot is for something a little daunting, something just beyond what they think they’re capable of reaching.
Action Step: Make Your BHAG Tangible
When we launched a company-wide fitness challenge at SnackNation, our BHAG was walking from San Francisco to LA in a month (virtually of course). This was our big, motivating group challenge.
We deliberately chose a goal that team members could visualize, rather than an abstract goal like “walk 400 miles.”
Tip 4: Track Your Progress
If you’re going to shoot for a goal, you’re going to need a way to measure your progress on your way there.
At SnackNation, we provided Jawbone fitness trackers to track our steps. This was hugely popular, and provided an easy way to accurately record progress towards our BHAG. (You can often negotiate bulk deals on fitness trackers for your company.)
Hasslett Express, a logistics company in Chicago, held a similar walking challenge. (In fact, ours was modeled after their walk from Chicago to LA challenge!)
Instead of fitness trackers, they had their in-house development team create a custom portal where employees could enter any type of physical activity (whether it be swimming, biking, or yoga) and it would convert it into the equivalent number of steps.
Of course, if supplying fitness trackers to your entire team isn’t realistic, track progress in a shared excel document. It doesn’t have to be high tech! It just has to be readily accessible to your entire team. (Try one of these templates from MUO).
Action Step: Create a Leaderboard
Use a rolling whiteboard – or better yet, convert a wall in your office into a whiteboard with whiteboard paint – to display group progress and individual challenge leaders. The daily reminders will continually motivate your team to compete.
Tip 5: Gamify
Gamification involves introducing elements of gameplay into your challenge. Most commonly, this means creating badges or rewards that team members unlock by hitting milestones.
Game mechanics are highly motivating. They play on our psychological need for status and achievement. You’ll find that gamification is a great way to unlock the spirit of friendly competition and increase participation company-wide.
Action Step: Set Both Team and Individual Rewards
In our walking challenge, we baked in individual rewards alongside our group BHAG.
Every week, we awarded prizes for the team member with the most steps, the individual who improved the most, as well as the most consistent performance. Team members also unlocked rewards for hitting milestones.
This ensured that our challenge inspired a sense of group of achievement while also fostering some healthy individual competition.
My Virtual Mission is a fantastic app that makes it incredibly easy to do gamify your fitness challenge.
Tip 6: Use the Fitness Challenge as a Kickoff to Larger Wellness Initiatives
The beauty of fitness challenges is that when done right, they’re a ton of fun. They create opportunities for your team to bond, and energize them around physical well being.
To really maximize the value of fitness challenges, use their momentum to increase participation in a larger wellness program that includes access to healthy food, information on medical screenings, education on mental health and productivity, and other initiatives that support wellbeing.
Action Step: Demonstrate Individual ROI
Before your fitness challenge ends and all the rewards are handed out, make sure you collect data on how your team is feeling.
Some might be feeling more energized and productive. Others might have undergone physical transformations and lost weight!
Collect the data and present it to your team as a recap. Help connect the dots between this activity and more investment in their own health and wellbeing via the additional programs you’re offering.
Fitness Challenge Launch Timeline
Week 1 – Convene your wellness panel. Determine what activities your team already enjoys or might be interested in trying. Make sure there is adequate choice to maximize participation.
Week 2 – Once the activity is determined, it’s time to design the challenge. Determine a BHAG that’s tangible, not abstract. Create rewards and incentives both on an individual and team level to foster some healthy competition. Make sure also incorporate a feedback mechanism.
Week 3 – Paint a wall in your common area with whiteboard paint. This will be your leaderboard. Buy trophies or badges to reward employees for hitting milestones.
Week 4 – Launch! Get your team psyched. Make sure you have buy-in from executive leaders and managers – without their participation, your team might not take it seriously.