How to Organize Workplace Wellness Challenges for Employees

The first word that comes to mind when thinking about building a culture of wellness at work might not be “fun.” But in reality, there is at least one viable strategy HR leaders can use to foster a mentally healthy organization that is just that: Wellness challenges and competitions.  

Gamification is an effective way to improve engagement in the workplace, help employees build healthy habits, and promote mental health and wellness. Not only that, but wellness challenges and competitions can also be a downright blast, too.  

So, how can HR leaders get started? Let’s dig a little deeper into the what, why, and how of workplace wellness challenges.

What are workplace wellness challenges and competitions?

Spanning a wide range of goals and activities, employee wellness challenges are friendly competitions at work that promote healthy habits among workers. They typically involve completing small, but fun daily tasks over the span of several weeks, incentivized by some kind of ultimate reward or benefit disbursed throughout the challenge. 

The types of activities involved in wellness challenges are almost endless—the limit is your imagination! Common competitions include walking challenges, where employees report on how many steps they’ve taken during a defined period, or mental health challenges, where employees complete daily mindfulness tasks like meditating. 

Depending on the nature of the challenge you choose, employees can participate as individuals or part of a bigger team, earning points for completing challenge activities. Often, these competitions will involve public leaderboards to incite more competition, and show active progress employees are making toward creating healthier habits for themselves. 

What are the benefits of workplace wellness challenges and competitions?

It’s not all just fun and games. Wellness challenges at work can also have a measurable impact across several dimensions of employee and organizational health. These are just a few benefits that can come with a successful workplace competition.

Lasting lifestyle changes — Workplace competitions offer many of the ingredients that psychologists say lead to lifestyle changes that stick. By starting small, providing an easy-to-follow plan, and involving others, these competitions create the conditions employees need to turn daily tasks into everlasting healthy habits.

Increased workplace morale — Competition has a way of igniting engagement and fun in those who are willing to participate. As employees climb higher toward their goals, so does morale, leading to a snowball effect that can improve employees’ outlook on both life and work. 

Higher productivity — When an employee is engaged at work, they are more productive. Implementing friendly competitions is one of the best ways to improve employee engagement, making work more fun and helping workers achieve a healthier lifestyle.  

Healthier, happier employees — After all, the ultimate goal of employee wellness challenges and competitions is to help employees become, well, healthier! Over time, the impact of many small, positive actions employees take will have an outsized return in helping them become better versions of themselves. 

Better retention and recruitment — Who wouldn’t like to have fun where they work? Workplace wellness challenges and competitions are a small but impactful way to help build an organizational culture that is attractive to both current and prospective employees. It’s a win-win.

Ideas you can implement in your next workplace wellness competition

The first step in putting together a wellness challenge is choosing an idea that will benefit your team, and ideally one that they’ll also be eager to complete. These challenges can be physical, mental, emotional, or social, helping your employees improve several different dimensions of their lives. 

Here are just a few of an infinite list of ideas to get you started.

Digital Detox Challenge

What is it? A way to encourage employees to get away from their screens and become more present.
How can you measure it? Most modern smartphones and computers track screen time and app usage. Set goals for employees such as “reduce average screen time by X%” or “keep daily screen time under X hours.”

Mindfulness Challenge

What is it? Mindfulness is a cognitive skill that allows people to live more in the present moment. 
How can you measure it? Consider hosting mindfulness seminars, or turn to your EAP for help introducing a daily meditation session. Give points to participants who regularly document their mindfulness practice each week.

Walking Challenge

What is it? Walking more during the workday offers a long list of benefits for both employees’ physical and mental health. Encourage employees to walk during their lunch, or even schedule more walking meetings.
How can you measure it? Most smart watches, fitness trackers, and even smart phones track step counts while they are on your person. Award points to the team members who get the most tracked steps in each week.

6 tips for a more successful workplace wellness challenge

Ready to launch your first (or next) workplace wellness challenge? Follow these tips to get the most out of the experience.

1. Don’t force participation

If one of the main goals for a workplace wellness challenge is to improve employee morale, then your employees should never feel forced to participate. You can improve participation by making challenges fun, accessible, and incentivized.

2. Make challenges inclusive and accessible

When it comes to building healthy habits, the easier it is to get started the more likely you are to continue doing them. Part of the power behind workplace wellness challenges is in showing the compounding effect that small actions can have over time. Make daily challenges inclusive so that anyone in your organization can do them, and quick enough that anyone can find the time in their schedule (ideally 15 minutes or less).

3. Incentivize participation and results

Two of the biggest challenges in implementing a wellness competition are recruiting participation, and maintaining momentum. Incentives play an enormous role in overcoming both of these hurdles. Choose some kind of reward for the winning group or individual at the end of the competition that everyone will love; and, along the way, think about smaller weekly prizes that keep participants energized and working toward their goals.

4. Get leadership involved

Competitions are more fun when the whole team is involved—leadership included. By involving upper level staff in workplace wellness challenges, you’re demonstrating a fuller commitment to creating a supportive environment and healthy workplace culture.

5. Schedule challenges to last at least four to ten weeks

Unfortunately, the popular idea that it takes 21 days to form a habit is a myth. However, longer durations of time building habits into your routine help reinforce their long term stickiness in your life. Exactly how long that duration needs to be depends on the person and the habit, but wellness challenges tend to be most effective when they last between four and ten weeks. Any less and habits are less likely to form; any more and participants are more likely to become disinterested.

6. Make challenges accomplishable in the workplace or at home

When you’re building your wellness challenge, consider the makeup of your workplace. Daily tasks should work for employees who work in the office, operate on a hybrid schedule, or get their work done remotely.

Challenge Yourself to Create a Healthier Workplace Culture

Beyond the duration of any workplace wellness competition, today’s modern employee needs comprehensive support to thrive. From prevention to intervention, Carebridge EAP can help. Connect with a member of our team today to learn how.