Ideas for wellness challenges (that employees won’t hate)

September 23, 2021 - 21 min read

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What is a workplace wellness challenge?

How can a workplace wellness challenge benefit your employees?

Common mistakes that will make your employees dread a wellness challenge

Keep virtual wellness challenge ideas in mind

20 workplace wellness challenges that your team won’t hate

Are you up for a wellness challenge?

Have you ever participated in a wellness challenge at work? How was it for you?

Were you inspired? Did you find it fun?

Did your company culture benefit?

It’s no secret that some company's wellness challenges have gotten a bad rap from employees. A poorly thought-out challenge can be worse than nothing at all. Besides being time-consuming and complicated, some wellness cha
llenge ideas aren’t inclusive or accessible to all.

But wellness challenges shouldn't be a burden.

Wellness programs have several benefits for an organization and its employees. They can build community and help spark a culture of wellness and growth. When done correctly, a good wellness program can
help employees achieve their goals and support their aspirations.

What is a workplace wellness challenge?

A workplace wellness challenge is designed to inspire healthy lifestyle choices among employees. There are a plethora of wellness trends out there to build on.

They are often made up of small but fun daily tasks. These tasks aim to build momentum through small steps. They get employees moving, thinking, and working in healthier ways.

For example, a wellness challenge might be for employees to walk a certain number of steps every day. Or to start a group meditation practice during lunch.

Many wellness challenge ideas transform traditionally boring tasks into fun, game-like activities. Employees are encouraged to try a new activity with support (and incentives), then adopt these healthy new routines into their daily habits

Making lifestyle changes is much harder when doing it alone.

This is why a wellness challenge can be so effective for large groups of employees. The incentive to commit to a new routine becomes stronger when others are involved, particularly when a team or several co-workers encourage each other with friendly reminders and even competition.

The first step of implementing a wellness challenge is to design a simple program. The program must focus on:

  • Participation requirements
  • Progress measurement tools
  • Objectives

A wellness challenge needs support from both leadership and management. It also needs commitment and leadership from a wellness committee that builds enthusiasm and community and keeps track of employees’ progress.

How can a workplace wellness challenge benefit your employees?

There are many ways a workplace wellness challenge can benefit your employees. From better work performance to self-improvement, to better overall mental fitness, the advantages are countless.

Here are some great reasons to put in place a wellness challenge at your organization today.

1. Improved work relations

An employee wellness program can help promote teamwork and cooperation within the workplace.

Having employees work toward a common goal creates a sense of unity and belonging. Depending on the type of challenge, it could promote some healthy competition between teams.

Encouraging employees to adopt healthy new habits can also help reduce team conflicts. Health and wellness promote confidence and personal satisfaction.

This helps employees manage work relations with more tolerance and respect for one another.

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2. Increased morale

Healthy habits like physical exercise and intuitive eating can lower stress.

With decreased stress levels comes increased morale. And a greater ability to maintain a positive mindset throughout the workday. This also lowers the risk of burnout at work.

Wellness challenges show employees that their company cares about their health and mental well-being. This fosters empathy and boosts satisfaction.

Different people feel energized by different things. Some employees may have increased morale after receiving positive feedback from their manager. Others might feel recharged after playing a competitive sport with their peers.

Having different types of wellness challenges allows all team members to benefit.

3. Healthier employees with reduced health risks

Another benefit of a workplace wellness challenge is the reduced level of health risks.

Wellness challenges often promote the physical health of employees. For example, this could be through group exercise or step tracking. But it’s important to include challenges focused on mental well-being, too.

Including activities focused on improved mental health makes a wellness challenge more holistic. Promoting mental well-being reduces the risk of anxiety, stress, loneliness, and depression.

Strong, healthy employees create a much happier workforce. They also create a more affordable one. Health issues cost companies billions in health care costs every year.

If they take care of employees’ mental and physical health now, companies may save hefty health care costs later down the line.

4. Employees feel valued

Employee engagement has a lot to do with an employee’s sense of value and recognition within the workplace.

Are they being looked after?

Are they being supported?

Are they being empowered?

Are they being encouraged to be the best version of themselves?

If your company can answer “yes” to these questions, your employees likely feel more valued.

With a sense of value comes a greater sense of pride, which can positively influence work output.

5. Better productivity

Companies are always looking for inventive ways to improve employee productivity. Creating a workplace wellness program is a great opportunity to boost productivity.

Research on the effects of wellness programs suggests that they can reduce absenteeism. Additionally, they:

  • Boost job satisfaction
  • Improve overall productivity

6. Improved employee recruitment and retention

Potential employees are bound to look at a company’s health and wellness programs.

Upping your company’s culture around health promotes better employee recruitment and retention.

The better your company’s culture is, the more likely it is to attract quality job candidates. It will also give others a good perception of how your company treats employees.

Common mistakes that will make your employees dread a wellness challenge

When developing new wellness challenge ideas, there are certain mistakes you want to avoid. Avoid the following oversights to get the best possible results from your employees.

1. Don’t use outdated metrics

Metrics are a form of quantitative measurement or assessment.

When designing a wellness challenge, there are some metrics you'll need to keep track of. These metrics will help your organization accurately gather results.

These metrics include:

  • Health impact
  • Participation
  • Performance
  • Value on investment (VOI)

Using outdated metrics will produce unclear results and possibly discourage individuals or damage support from the organization. This will threaten the effectiveness of the wellness challenge itself.

2. Don’t penalize employees for not participating

Nobody wants to be forced into a wellness challenge. Making involvement compulsory will only cause stress and breed contempt for the challenge.

Don't penalize employees for choosing not to take part in the challenge.

Use positive reinforcement, recognizing effort and accomplishments but letting most of the motivation and enthusiasm come from the participants themselves. Focus on making the challenge attractive to employees rather than imposing penalties for lack of involvement.

3. Don’t create a program that’s too challenging

Very challenging programs will put off employees with less experience. It will also make company-wide participation more difficult.

Create programs that are flexible, easy enough for both young and old, fit and unfit employees to keep up with but also inviting for people who are more fit or adventurous. That might mean engaging some of the outliers to be coaches and mentors to others to keep them involved. 

This will make the challenge more appealing to all employees. It will also promote inclusivity.

This is especially important if it's your company’s first time running a wellness challenge.

Broad participation is a goal but so is enthusiastic participation. Making it look like a good time will create more demand for the next challenge.

4. Don’t compromise health privacy

Many people prefer to keep their health information private. And that decision should remain theirs.

Enforced exposure may make employees feel uncomfortable. Be especially attuned to whether any direct or indirect shaming — of body type or lifestyle — is occurring. Focusing too much on stats like weight or body fat can encourage the wrong type of competition. This discourages employees from participating in the challenge.

Better metrics are ones that track routine or habit-building, such as consecutive days of activity, or trajectory, such as percentage improvements week to week. 

It's useful to have a tracking program where employees can follow their own and other’s progress. But no one should feel obligated to use it or share their personal wellness trajectory.

This could take the focus away from the overall experience for employees.

A wellness challenge should focus on a genuine desire for improved health, quality of life, and work-life balance

Ensure that employees have control over whether to participate or not. And let them have the option to keep their results private. This will help make your workplace wellness challenge a success on all fronts.

Keep virtual wellness challenge ideas in mind

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a recent surge in remote working teams. This provides new workplace challenges. But remote work also provides opportunities for creative team-building activities.

Because of this, many companies are turning to virtual wellness challenges.

Virtual wellness challenges are much easier to conduct. Primarily because the responsibility shifts onto the individual. Incorporating the internet adds a fun, accessible element to any challenge.

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There are plenty of virtual wellness challenge ideas. Including:

20 workplace wellness challenges that your team won’t hate

Workplace wellness challenges aren’t always welcomed. Employees may argue that they don’t work and or that they don't have enough time.

But with the right implementation, your company’s employees can find joy in healthy living.

Here are some creative wellness challenge ideas to get employee’s heart rates up and stress levels down — all without costing too much time or compromising privacy.

workplace-wellness-challenge calendar-wellness-challenge

1. Positivity challenge

Positivity is a state of mind. Get employees to think positively for seven days and see how it affects their mental health.

2. Drink more water

Healthy adults drink eight cups of water every day. Challenge employees to increase their water intake to hit that mark.

3. Meditation challenge

Meditation reduces stress and promotes focus. See who can commit to 20 minutes of meditation every day. Wearable stress trackers are great gadgets to remind your employees to take time to meditate.

4. Join a sports league

Gather employees into teams on a sports league and offer a healthy prize for the winners. Doing physical activity as a group is a great way for employees to bond outside the office.

5. Yoga classes (onsite or virtual)

Yoga doubles as a stress reliever and body stretcher. Hosting daily or weekly yoga sessions virtually or at the office is a fun way to promote exercise. It’s also an inclusive exercise for all levels of experience.

6. Mindful breathing sessions

Use 30 minutes of the workday for everyone to gather and commit to a relaxing session of mindfulness.

7. Gratitude diary

Distribute diaries to your employees and challenge them to write down something they’re grateful for every day. Journaling gives you a place to express gratitude in a positive, personal way.

8. Healthy team lunches

Hold daily competitions to see who can bring the healthiest lunch to work. Healthy eating as a team promotes camaraderie and encourages employees to eat a healthy meal together. It also promotes community and encourages employees to slow down and take a break during the day.

9. Random acts of kindness

Challenge employees to do something kind that isn’t expected of them every day for a week.

10. Sleep challenge

There’s no denying the importance of getting enough sleep and practicing good sleep hygiene.

Ask employees to record how many hours of sleep they get every night. Have your team download a sleep tracking app to monitor your collective sleeping habits. Or invest in sleep trackers for your team to help them monitor their sleeping habits.

11. Goal sharing sessions

Round up employees for a confidence-building exercise. In this exercise, everyone can share their personal or professional goals for the next few years. Help them write a five-year plan that encourages them to strive for long-term goals.

12. Planking challenge

Planking is a great core exercise that requires no equipment. Set incrementally increasing daily goals for how long employees can hold a plank.

13. Walk or bike to work

Challenge employees to save money and help the environment by either walking or cycling to work for a week.

14. Support small businesses

Offer a reward to employees that support small or local businesses. For example, reward employees for ordering from their local restaurant instead of fast-food chains.

15. Take the stairs

Instead of using the elevator, prompt employees to use the stairs for the week (or month).

16. Smoking cessation

Challenge all of your smoking employees to stop smoking for a certain amount of time. Don’t forget to reward the winners.

17. 10,000 steps challenge

10,000 steps are equivalent to about five miles. See who can reach this goal first via step-tracking apps or a smartwatch.

18. Office garden

Start a herb or flower garden on office grounds and let employees take turns tending it.

19. Vegan Mondays

Take “Meatless Mondays” to the next level by seeing who can cut all meat and animal byproducts once a week.

20. Virtual walking meetings

Instead of sitting at a desk, encourage remote team members to take a walk outside for the duration of outside meetings.

Are you up for a wellness challenge?

Forget what you've heard about wellness challenges being dull. Workplace challenges have the potential to be anything but boring.

With the right wellness activities, employees can find fulfillment in the workplace. They can also be instrumental in bringing teams together.

BetterUp helps organizations unlock their maximum productivity and engagement potential.

Through research-based programs, BetterUp can help your business coordinate a workplace wellness challenge. This challenge will leave both employees and managers feeling satisfied, happy, and inspired.

It's a win-win for everyone.

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Published September 23, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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