The office looked much different just a few decades ago when people smoked at their desks and ordered martinis at client lunches.
Indeed, our workplaces have transformed over the past few years. Workplace wellness challenges—activities designed to help people become happier, healthier and more energetic at work—are all the rage.
But is it all feel-good rhetoric? Or does it actually make you feel good?
A 2014 Harvard Business Review study of 20 companies found an average annual healthcare cost increase of 1% to 2% for companies with wellness programs. That’s compared to a national average increase of 7%.
Some programs, however, are better than others, according to Laura Linnan, a professor of public health at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
In an interview with Fortune Magazine, Linnan stresses that it’s important that weight loss programs are practical and accessible. Examples include fitness challenges, weight loss challenges, yoga classes, lunchtime stress management seminars, cooking classes, programs to help employees quit smoking and healthy recipe exchanges.
But what good is a weight loss challenge when every company meeting includes a tray of cookies? Instead, she suggests serving healthier foods—and also making sure that your break room has something besides junk to offer.
Here are a few things to keep in mind for workplace challenges to be successful.
1. Make them fun. Part of this is just the way you present a challenge. Think of an interesting name for a weight loss challenge—“Dump the Plump,” for example. Or “Slimmer than Santa” for a holiday challenge. Encourage a playful sense of competition that has different teams vying against one another. Encourage employees to suggest challenges.
2. Award prizes. Some employers award small prizes—such as water bottles—just for participation. Another idea is to have a drawing for all participants who reach a certain goal, such as losing 5% of body weight. Grand prizes don’t have to be expensive. Maybe the winner gets a reserved parking spot for a month or a half-day off of work.
3. Find the right length of time for a challenge. Workplace challenges need to be long enough to form new, healthy habits and short enough to maintain employee interest. For a weight loss challenge, that might be 12 weeks. For a stay-hydrated challenge in which employees drink 32 ounces of water every day at work, a month might be a better length of time.
4. Find a workplace challenge champion. No matter what the challenge is, at least one person should be charged with keeping enthusiasm levels up. That might be through weekly email updates, signs in the break room or articles in the company newsletter.
5. Think beyond weight loss and nutrition. Examples include 10 minutes a day of meditation, spending 15 minutes outside every day, sincerely complimenting a co-worker, sleeping seven hours a night, reading a book or doing volunteer work.
Whether you’re the boss of a company or a new employee, workplace wellness challenges are a great way to encourage healthy behavior, bolster a sense of teamwork and make the office more fun.
If you need help getting started our guide: “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” is a great resource. Inside you’ll find ways to ease yourself into an exercise routine and how hard you should be working out to see results.