Employee wellness programs continue to move from being a nice perk to a must have for companies looking to recruit the best talent. As such, more companies are investing in wellness initiatives to encourage employees to stay healthy. Also, in the constant battle with turnover and employee disengagement, employee health and loyalty are valuable resources, which can be earned and improved through wellness initiatives. In fact, a recent survey found that employees who felt their employer-provided benefits positively affected their lives were 40% more likely to say they were loyal to their company.
However, well-being is a broad subject including everything from financial wellness to mental health. How should employers navigate these options? To help save employer’s time, Wellable compiled a list of fundamental and beneficial challenge ideas companies can run at their organizations. Consider these challenges as a foundation that employers can build upon with fun themes that fit with an organization’s culture. Below are six challenge ideas to get any organization started.
Walking challenges are the most popular, straightforward, and well-known type of challenge when it comes to encouraging physical activity. There's a reason why it is so popular and highly recommended: it works. Countless research has revealed the benefits of walking, and an equal number of studies show that individuals do not do enough of it. As such, walking challenges are a great first-step (no pun intended) when it comes to kicking off a wellness program organization.
Downsides to a walking challenge are few and lie mainly on the means an employer chooses to track and incentivize participation… so choose a platform wisely. It is tough to get strong engagement when employees are forced to manually track and enter steps. Likewise, it is impossible to engage individuals when they cannot participate because they don't have a device that connects to the platform to automatically sync their steps. Therefore, choosing a platform that is flexible in the kinds of technology it can connect to allows employees to participate without resorting to manual entry. It removes many barriers to participation and engagement.
This way, everyone can participate regardless of their personal preference for tracking. All they need to do is walk!
Another major downside is that walking challenges can become dry over time. To resolve this, gamify the experience using various themes and fun graphics, such as "Climb the Mt. Everest" or "Swim Across The Hudson River!" Check out and borrow some winning ideas from Wellable's sample challenge themes!
Healthy habits include things such as drinking enough water throughout the day, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or getting appropriate amounts of sleep. Together, many small healthy habits like these make a big difference in individual health.
Individually, these habits are not difficult to adopt. The challenge comes from doing them consistently over time and making them a natural part of an everyday routine. To avoid overwhelming participants, resist the urge to introduce too many new habits at once. Instead, slowly add and introduce new habits one-by-one. For example, the first week of the challenge might be dedicated to drinking more water. Once employees are used to this, start introducing something new, such as eating a handful of nuts every day.
Remember that some habits are harder to build than others and might take participants longer to adopt. Habits such as "go for a 1-mile run every day" might take up to 30 days to become natural. While these health behaviors take longer to build, they also significantly contribute to long-term health. You just need to be patient and work with participants using a reasonable pace.
To track daily habits, you could use a Google Sheet (a breeding ground for false-reporting if rewards are involved) or designate accountability partners. If you have the budget, you can use a platform that lets you digitally track these activities every day. These platforms are more affordable than you think!
New Hire Challenges
Worksite wellness challenges for new hires are not necessarily a theme of challenge. However, it is a very effective strategy in employee retention and therefore worth considering. The focus of new hire challenges is to communicate to new employees that their health and wellness are important parts of the organization’s culture.
Check out this post for specific ideas on new hire challenges to make new employees feel welcome, let them know that wellness is an integral part of the organization's culture, and increase engagement during their first few weeks with the company. Some of the challenges in the post are similar to the ones mentioned here but are also designed with the goal of integrating new hires into the company’s culture of health quickly and smoothly.
Proper eating is an essential part of overall wellness. However, it is often the most difficult to address. Many workplace wellness challenges, for this reason, miss out on the opportunity to help their employees develop healthy eating habits.
A challenge around nutrition can be approached in many ways. For example, employers can organize catered lunch groups with free healthy meals and reward participation (who doesn't want free food!?). They can also pair employees up with "accountability partners” that work to hold each other accountable when it comes to food and other health promotion activities. Alternatively, a nutritionist or health coach can be brought in to deliver a series of nutrition webinars/seminars. Employees can earn points for participating in educational events or talking to a nutritionist to improve their current eating habits.
Similar to other challenges, there is a "tech angle" for employers who'd like to push digital wellness. Nutrition-tracking apps like MyFitnessPal can be helpful in this case. Employees can get rewarded for consistently tracking their nutritional intake through apps.
Word Of Caution
The critical thing to note here is that the challenge should not be about punishing employees for eating certain foods. Instead, it should focus on encouraging consistent tracking of food intake. Similarly, the language should not be about weight loss, which can easily be seen when reviewing the efficacy of Biggest Loser-type programs. Employees should focus more on how nutrition can enable them to live better lives (maybe so that they can compete harder in the company’s fitness challenge) and not just about how to drop the pounds. If an individual focuses on eating better and being more physically active, weight loss will come, if that is what the person really needs.
Employers do not need to pour through everyone's nutrition log to make a difference. Many studies have shown that merely tracking food improves one's eating quality. There’s no need to associate negative emotions of food avoidance and being forced to lose weight with the challenge. In other words, just encouraging employees to write down what they eat will nudge them to reach for healthier foods on the shelf.
Mental wellness has become an essential topic for employers in recent months. The rise in mental illness over the past decade has made employers hyper-aware of how their employees manage stress and burnout. Wellness services, such as meditation seminars, can be turned into wellness challenges by rewarding consistent participation.
However, there are limitations to these in-person sessions. Not everyone in your organization has the flexibility to attend consistently. Additionally, seminars can become costly over time. Utilizing technology is an alternative to address this. Employees can use many apps, such as Headspace (paid) or Insight Timer (free) on their own time. Employees can report their usage of these apps for the challenge, and rewards can be based either on duration (meditation minutes) or day streaks.
Some wellness challenge platforms integrate with these meditation apps. Similar to the nutrition challenge above, users can get rewarded for the consistent use of these mental wellness apps, and adherence and can be made part of a larger comprehensive program or left as a separate one.
Financial Wellness Challenges
It should come as no surprise that employees struggle with financial well-being. Research shows that they may bring their struggles to work, affecting their productivity and health. Employers, as a result, are also negatively impacted by these financial worries. For this reason, financial well-being programs are rising in popularity. They appeal to a broad range of audiences. From college grads with student debt to older millennials with mortgages, most people can benefit from better financial wellness.
However, it is hard to build the “challenge” component into financial wellness. Financial information is sensitive, and most people don’t want to share it with their colleagues. Therefore, the best means to incorporate financial wellness into a challenge is through education. Employers can hold webinars or provide employees with self-paced educational tools, and reward based on participation. For example, employees can earn points for attending a financial planning webinar or meeting with a company-sponsored financial adviser.
Admittedly, it is not easy to build a challenge solely around financial wellness. This type of challenge will work better complementing a comprehensive employee wellness challenge or other kinds of challenges mentioned above.
Which One To Choose?
The ideal challenge(s) for each organization will vary based on their specific goals and objectives, as no two cultures are the same and every employee has unique personal goals. Rather than have all these areas be covered at once in a single challenge, Wellable found it useful to break out the various topics by challenges, preventing employees from becoming overwhelmed. Many will start out with steps, as this is the easiest one for employees to join and will then advance to the other areas as their population becomes more accustomed to wellness at work. The important thing to note is that employers don’t need to limit themselves to one challenge.