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Workplace Wellness: 5 Ways to Gamify Office Health

If you’ve ever made a pledge to eat better or exercise more, you know how quickly that resolve can fall apart at work — someone brings in a birthday cake, or the boss calls a last-minute meeting that forces you to forego your lunchtime walk.

Employees spend a lot of time and energy on the job, which may make it difficult to stick to healthy habits. Realizing this, many Tennessee companies encourage healthy behavior through wellness challenges. The employer sees reduced absenteeism and lower health costs, while the employee feels better. It’s win-win.

“The idea of workplace wellness has been around for a while, but a lot has changed in its modern form,” says John Chobanian, executive director of the Governor’s Foundation on Health and Wellness, which runs Healthier Tennessee. “Workplaces are a lot smarter about how they engage people and set up a work environment to both recruit new employees and retain current staff. The goal is to find a way to make the workplace a more fun place, to increase engagement in wellness plans and to encourage friendship among employees.”

A well-constructed game fits the bill, tapping into our natural (ideally good-natured) competitiveness while opening up a relatively easy path to healthier behaviors.

Some common gamified activities:

  • Company walks for charity
  • Points for gym attendance or physical activity
  • FitBit/Pedometer step competition
  • Tracking fruit or vegetable consumption via fitness apps

Here’s how some Tennessee companies put those concepts into action:

1. Don’t make it about weight

Rather than focus on losing weight, which can intimidate instead of motivate, wellness challenges aim to change specific habits that contribute to poor health. Often, weight loss is a welcome side effect, but either way, the goal is that the new habit will linger beyond the challenge and make its way into company culture.

For example, the Eastman Credit Union in Kingsport created the Water-Water-Water challenge (part of a larger community health campaign by Healthy Kingsport) to encourage employees to choose water over sugary drinks. The goal: Consume 500 ounces or more of water in one month, using the company’s wellness app or website to track every sip. Anyone who met the challenge was entered into a drawing for a $75 Amazon gift card.

At the end of the month:

  • 138 completed the challenge, and
  • One employee who typically drank 160 ounces of Mountain Dew per day cut that amount in half by choosing water instead;
  • Most importantly, the challenge made all participating employees think about what they were reaching for when they got thirsty.

That’s the first step in changing a habit.

Learn more about the efforts being made by Healthy Kingsport in the workplace and the community to improve health in East Tennessee.

2. Make it easy

Technology definitely adds a convenience factor to challenges. Wearable trackers like FitBit and smartphone apps allow everyone to join in and to see how they are doing compared to others.

When Wellmont Health launched a step challenge, it started by giving anyone who participated a free FitBit.

If that falls outside the company budget, the free Streaks for Small Starts at Work app from Healthier Tennessee offers 50 different healthy habits to adopt, from eating fruit to taking the stairs to exercising for 30 minutes each day. Choose an action and track it, with the goal of building up the longest streak. The app can even be customized with the company logo and its own activity feed to keep up with everyone’s progress.

3. Make it fun

Try something a little different, like food color wars.

  1. Split the office into Team Orange, Team Green and Team Red.
  2. Each team contributes healthy dishes featuring fruits and vegetables of their color.
  3. People vote for the winner by secret ballot, and
  4. The winning team receives a prize.

If you like, at the end of a few challenges, collect the top recipes into a company cookbook (printed or online) with all the contributors’ names.

4. Give a prize

Competing for bragging rights is nice, but we all like a tangible reward for our efforts. Chobanian points out that a workplace reward can be as inexpensive as an afternoon off or a special parking spot for a week.

Southeastern Pant in Centerville kept the health theme going with its prizes during a step competition, awarding an exercise ball to the employee who logged the most steps in the second week of a four-week challenge. 

5. Be part of a bigger challenge

Sign up the company for a local event like a 5K, walk for charity, bike-a-thon, or dance marathon — anything that gets people moving. Then make a friendly wager with your local competitor or the company next door. Now you have everyone on your team encouraging each other to keep going and beat the other guy.

“The whole point of gamifying workplace challenges is to jazz people up and get them excited about the activity,” says Kandy Childress, executive director of Healthy Kingsport. “It’s not about an organization telling employees that they need to change their habits or health costs will go up. It’s about giving them the tools and opportunity to make a real transition to substantial and sustained healthier habits.”

For more tips on office health, click here.

Nancy Henderson

Nancy Henderson

Nancy Henderson, a writer and editor originally from New York, moved to Nashville more than 25 years ago and considers herself more Tennessean than Yankee these days. As Editor at Parthenon Publishing since 2005, she has written about health care and wellness for a variety of publications.

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