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How Employees Use Wellness Challenges as a Catalyst for Change

Workplace wellness challenges are great for increasing engagement and strengthening a culture of well-being. But employees can use challenges as a catalyst to support their own well-being goals, too. We followed some WebMD Health Services employees as they participated in our Invitational Steps Challenge. Here we share their motivations, their challenges, and their successes as they moved their way to better health.

First, what is our Invitational Team Steps Challenge?

The Invitational Steps Challenge is a 5-week employee wellness challenge in which participants compete in small teams to tally the most steps per week. While we conducted our challenge for five weeks, you can also organize a 30-day challenge or even just two weeks.

The Invitational is popular because people of all fitness levels can participate, and it doesn’t matter if they are in the office, working remotely, or in different geographic locations.

It’s easy to track progress, too. Employees use their own pedometers, steps-tracking app, or exercise converter to record their activities.

We know that wellness challenges like this one can help organizations promote their well-being culture, increase connections between colleagues, and boost morale. But we were curious to see how individuals may use a challenge to achieve their own goals. So during our latest Invitational, we followed some of our employees throughout their five-week journey to see how they used the wellness challenge to work on their personal well-being goals.

Let’s meet our participants and learn about their goals.

All of our employees were members of teams competing to outstep one another, but they also came to the challenge with their own unique reasons for participating.

  • Bryn was looking to add steps to his day and, most importantly, get in shape for a long hike he had coming up.
  • Caitlin was pregnant with her second child and wanted to stay active during her pregnancy. She challenged herself to walk two miles a day in addition to normal “around the house” steps.
  • Christine missed the social interactions she used to have before work became remote. She used the Invitational to engage with people while also getting her steps in.
  • Corey wanted to move more throughout the day and, if we’re being honest, be on the winning team this year!
  • Gretchen had several goals: walk 10,000-15,000 steps per day, exercise 3-4 days per week, try new kinds of physical activity, and get her family involved, too.
  • Mimi wanted to get back into a regular exercise routine, so she set a goal of running three miles a day.

Checking in on their journeys.

Midway through the event, we checked in with everyone. We were curious to see how things were going, if they had faced any challenges, and how they overcame them.

Sometimes the weather made outdoor activity tough.

When it was still too cold to be outside, Gretchen took to her basement treadmill. Corey decided to go ahead and just run in the rain. Christine and her walking partner made a backup plan to walk at the mall during bad weather, but sometimes, they persevered and walked outside anyway in raincoats and rainboots!

Work demands and scheduling difficulties cropped up.

Faced with a packed meeting calendar, Caitlin and Bryn turned to walking meetings to get their steps in. Corey took advantage of a walking desk when he was in the office. Christine and her partner sometimes found it difficult to align their work schedules, but still managed to meet once a week to walk.

Balancing the challenge and family responsibilities wasn’t always easy.

Caitlin worried about being able to spend quality time with her toddler and still get her steps in. And despite her good intentions, sometimes, her toddler just wasn’t up for the walk she’d planned. Concerned that her vacation in Florida might prevent her from tallying steps, Gretchen made a point of trekking up and down the beach each day. Corey also struggled with balancing his planned PTO and family time while also reaching his step goal. With nine-month-old twins to take care of, Mimi realized the only time she could devote to hitting her goal was very early in the morning, which was hard.

And then there were the unexpected things.

Bryn had a three-hour layover at the airport—but quickly turned it into a chance to get more steps in—15,000 to be exact. Caitlin caught her toddler’s cold at the beginning of the challenge and wasn’t able to exercise. Luckily her teammates walked extra to make up the steps. Corey also started the challenge a little under the weather and had to make up for lost time.

Remembering their motivation.

Five weeks is a long time to keep up the motivation. Nevertheless, our employees shared that they kept going so they wouldn’t let their teams down. But there were personal reasons, too.

Caitlin wanted to feel better about herself and be physically ready to take care of two small children once the new baby arrived. Mimi’s parents passed away when she was young, and she wanted to make sure she stayed healthy and set a good example for her own four children. Her health coach was instrumental in helping her identify this important “why.” With a big hike coming upat 12,500 feet—Bryn wanted to make sure he could finish strong.

So, in the end, what were the biggest wins?

Everyone was pleased with their achievements over the five weeks. Almost all hit or surpassed the goals they’d set for themselves at the outset. But, perhaps more important, several people had some critical “a-ha” moments and realizations over the course of their journeys.

Caitlin’s win.

Caitlin told us that “the experience has really highlighted for me how important it is to work with my partner to find time for me to do things for ME. I’m glad to have this experience to help me set some guardrails for myself ahead of having two littles at home.” She also shared that participating made her feel less self-conscious about her body, and realized that clothing size and the number on the scale are just not as important compared to growing a human being! Getting creative with how she could add movement to her day was also something she learned and, she says, her “increasingly pregnant body” is thanking her for it.

Mimi’s win.

Mimi realized that in order to get exercise in, she needed to commit to doing it during the morning, or it wouldn’t happen. Since her twins were not yet sleeping through the night, this was no easy feat. But throughout the challenge, Mimi realized that getting 30 minutes of exercise was more important than that extra 30 minutes of sleep. She says: “This Invitational got me through that rough start to a consistent exercise routine, and I’m on the other side where my body needs that daily activity!”

Corey’s win.

In addition to his team winning the entire challenge, Corey said that this was also his best individual performance, finishing in the top 20 overall. As a bonus, he also lost a few pounds that he wasn’t expecting to lose. And, after running in the rain, he decided that he had no excuse for not being more active throughout the day—no matter the weather.

Gretchen’s win.

Gretchen found creative ways to stay active—like gardening—and even rekindled her love for biking. She said: “I started bicycling again for the first time in 20 years, and I am LOVING it!” She also found that the challenge was a great way to get her family to be more active. Her daughter loved the extra bonding time—not to mention all the hours spent jumping on the trampoline!

Bryn’s win.

Bryn shared that he was more motivated to just be outdoors. Being in nature made him feel better and motivated him to achieve his goals—even if things like skiing didn’t actually translate to more steps.

Christine’s win.

Christine really reaped the benefits of increased social interaction. She shared: “It’s not my first time participating in the Invitational. I’ve participated every year, but this one? This one was one for the books. Adding the social component and being mindful about it has made such a world of difference since I work from home now. It’s been so rewarding and fulfilling to stay committed to this goal. My cup is so full!”

One final note.

While the employees we followed reaped many personal benefits from participating in the Invitational, people also commented on the benefits of wellness challenges in the workplace. Many noted that the challenge strengthened their work relationships and improved company culture, too. The challenge helped them go beyond “small talk” and have more meaningful connections with coworkers. Some met people they’d never known before and formed new friendships. A team that was randomly assigned decided they’d be “forever teammates.” And several felt a different level of support from colleagues that they know will last well beyond the challenge.

Whether they’re part of your well-being program or a standalone activity, wellness challenges are a great way to give employees the structure and support to achieve their personal well-being goals. If you’d like some help with how to plan a wellness challenge, visit our website or contact us at connect@webmd.net.

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