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Putting People First: 10 Wellness Challenges Your Employees Will Love

Successful employee health challenges need to be fun! Here are a few great ideas to get you started.

Phil Strazzulla
HR Tech Expert, Harvard MBA, Software Enthusiast
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Employee wellness programs are nothing new. In fact, there are many companies that focus solely on various ways to engage and encourage employees to take better care of their health and wellness.

It’s not just about exercise and better eating habits. From smoking cessation to meditation and even financial wellness, employers have many ways to help employees improve themselves. But for all the options, it can still be a challenge to get employees to participate the way we hope they will. Here are some great wellness challenges your team members are sure to love.

Fitness Challenges

We all know we need to eat better and exercise more, but that doesn’t make it less of a struggle to do so. Fun nutrition and exercise challenges can help incentivize employees to try a little harder—especially with the right prizes on the line. The key is to keep these challenges short and simple. Team members will have a much easier time staying on track if the challenge doesn’t run for months on end.

Pro tip: rewarding employees with healthy snacks through a program like Caroo can be a great way to supercharge these types of programs.

Successful employee health challenges also need to be fun! Here are a few great ideas to get you started:

  • Walking: One of the easier options is to encourage employees to get out of their chairs and take a walk. If your office is near a park or walking trails, incorporate these destinations. Hold participants accountable by having them take a selfie at the destination, and then upload the photos to an internal site. Walking challenges can get a lot of employees involved and help build camaraderie at the same time.
  • Biking: Encouraging employees to get some added physical activity by biking to work is a popular challenge idea. To take it up a notch, consider organizing a cycling race if you have a feasible location nearby. It's a great way to foster participation at all ability levels, and you can even open it up to families.
  • Climbing: Employees probably aren’t ready to take on Everest, but if your offices are in a high-rise, you can challenge team members to a stair-climbing contest. Add fun posters of some of the world’s tallest peaks at each landing for some inspiration. Establish awards like Most Stairs Climbed, Biggest Improvement, and Most Consistent Climber to motivate maximum participation.
  • Healthy Competition: Does your company have a sports court? Create an interoffice 3-on-3 basketball tournament, with the winning team getting a few extra hours of paid time off. Or work as a company and create a kickball or softball team to compete against other nearby companies.

No matter what kind of physical fitness challenge you decide to implement as part of your overall employee wellness program, remember to make it fun and easy to follow. For more ideas, check out this article from Wellable.

Nutrition Challenges

Better eating habits go hand-in-hand with physical fitness; companies are often looking for ways to encourage employees to make better food choices as part of a healthy lifestyle. If your company offers on-site food service, it’s easy to select a healthier variety of meal options. However, it can still be a challenge to get people to make better choices for themselves. Here are a few great ways to encourage healthy eating:

  • Free Snacks: If your company provides on-site food service, or regularly stocks snack foods, consider covering the cost of the healthy options. Fresh fruit, yogurt, veggies and dip, and other such options are great alternatives to baked goods and other sugary alternatives. And don’t forget to encourage drinking water instead of soda and caffeine. All of these small changes can add up to a big improvement in employee health.
  • Company Cooking Challenge: Appeal to your team members’ inner chef and sponsor a healthful competition based on nutritious recipes. Depending on the size of your company, you can even create a tournament bracket based on departments, or create a single-elimination challenge based on cooking shows like Chopped, where contestants have to come up with unique dishes based on the ingredients they are given.
  • Involve Your Fitness Fanatics: Many companies already have at least a few team members who excel at tracking their nutrition goals and who are up on the latest trends and dietary information. Consider involving them by asking that they host a lunch-and-learn meeting to talk to others who are interested in learning the do’s and don’ts about nutrition. You can even award points to the attendees and create a reward structure based on how many lunch-and-learns they attend.

Mindfulness Challenges

Employees’ emotional and mental health have always been important. However, it’s arguably more important than ever to address concerns—preferably before they become a problem. Right now, many people are still dealing with a wide array of emotions regarding the coronavirus, whether it’s safe to be back at work, and what the future holds. They’re concerned about the next school year and childcare, elderly relatives, and much more outside of work itself. Between March and June 2020, Virgin Pulse saw substantial increases in coaching appointments, requests for substance support, and requests for anxiety and depression support.

Within the working world, new issues ranging from minor (i.e. Zoom fatigue) to more serious (depression, anxiety, and more) will need a proactive approach. Some teams may feel disconnected because more people are working remotely for extended periods. Other teams may be wary of being back in the office full-time. Here are a few wellness activities that will encourage a positive outlook and stress management:

  • Sponsor a Meditation Challenge: There is much scientific evidence to support meditation’s ability to reduce stress and improve one’s outlook on life. This Five-Day Challenge is a great way to teach people more about meditation and get them in the habit of doing it consistently. Or for a longer program, look into this option.
  • Encourage Ideas for Creative Breaks: Make a game out of employees sharing their favorite ways to take a short break during the workday, or their favorite hobby outside of work. Team members can submit ideas and others can try them out and vote on their favorites. Offer fun prizes for the company-favorite ideas, like a gift card for a massage or a favorite restaurant. You can even create a way to recognize your team members’ talents to encourage hobbies.

Financial Challenges

Employees’ financial wellness is yet another area deserving of company support. According to Limeade, not only are employees worrying about personal finances at work, but nearly 30% spend 2-3 hours per week handling personal financial issues. As employers, if you can learn how to create a financial wellness program to help reduce employees' stress about their personal finances, you will gain back those productivity hours and you will have a happier employee. Helping team members set personal goals to improve their financial wellness will have long-lasting effects. Beyond the usual 401(k)s and HSAs, there are several ways to encourage better fiscal responsibility with your employees. For example:

  • Make Financial Advice More Accessible: While not so much a challenge as an educational tool, by bringing in an outside financial advisor—or possibly drawing from your in-house resources—you will foster communication and give team members opportunities to ask questions of someone who can help provide direction. From college savings options to paying off student loan debt, there are many ways employees can be managing their money. Getting the right guidance can make a huge impact, which has a ripple effect across the organization. And what’s more, employees and employers alike report better overall satisfaction with the benefits packages when they include financial advising.
  • Challenge Team Members to Meet Their Goals: Though it’s difficult to create a company-wide challenge around individuals’ financials, you can create a challenge in a different way. With the employee’s buy-in, you can create a monthly or quarterly “financial wellness” check. By helping your employees meet their financial goals, you demonstrate your commitment to their success. And as they reach those goals, they will build confidence to set new goals. What may start off as paying off credit card debt can become working toward a down payment on a house.

We have published a guide on employee wellness platforms where are can see the best financial employee wellness platforms out there.

Putting People First

No matter which of these workplace wellness challenges you decide to implement, by putting a clear focus on your employees’ wellbeing, you are showing a commitment to creating a better working environment for everyone. It's a win-win. This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to incentivize employee participation. Sometimes it just takes a little extra encouragement to get people on a path to bettering themselves and developing healthy habits to last a lifetime.

Lastly, look for tools that can help supercharge your Wellness efforts. We have a list of vetted Employee Wellness Platforms designed to help HR teams who are prioritizing these sorts of initiatives. Good luck!

Phil Strazzulla
HR Tech Expert, Harvard MBA, Software Enthusiast
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Phil is the founder of SelectSoftware Reviews, a website dedicated to helping HR and Recruiting teams find and buy the right software through in-depth, expert advice. He has bought over $1 million worth of HR and Recruiting tools. Additionally, as of 2023, nearly 3 million HR professionals have relied on his advice to determine which business software they should buy.

Phil studied finance at New York University and started his career working in venture capital before getting his MBA from Harvard Business School. His in-depth understanding of the Saas landscape, especially HR Tech, stems from nearly a decade of researching and working with these tools as a computer programmer, user, and entrepreneur.

Featured in: Entrepreneur Harvard Business School Yahoo HR.com Recruiting Daily Hacking HR Podcast HR ShopTalk Podcast Employer Branding for Talent Acquisition (Udemy Course)

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