A workplace fitness challenge can be a strong component of your company’s overall wellness and health promotion program, encouraging exercise and building camaraderie.

Beyond these soft benefits, well-designed and well-executed workplace wellness programs deliver measurable ROI to the company in the form of productivity gains and reduced healthcare costs.

But to be successful, any workplace fitness challenge has to be tailored to your organization. It has to address the health concerns of your employees and be a good fit to your company’s culture. Without this tailoring, it’s unlikely that employees will participate, making the fitness challenge a waste of time and resources.

Here are a few ideas to help make sure your workplace fitness challenge is successful from kickoff to completion.

Enlist Help To Set Up Your Workplace Fitness Challenge

When planning a workplace fitness challenge, start by enlisting the help of others. Work with a cross section of people from different departments, from various levels of the organization, and who have varying levels of physical fitness.

Working with a cross section of people you can:

  • Get a good read on the wellness concerns that resonate with your employees
  • Find out what kind of challenge fits best in the workday
  • Find out if people are interested in challenges that require time outside of the normal workday
  • Build grassroots commitment for the challenge
  • Foster cheerleaders for the challenge

By working with others you’ll be able to gather information that will lead to a challenge that employees will actually be excited to participate in.

Tailor The Fitness Challenge To Your Workplace

While your employee benefits provider may offer off-the-shelf fitness challenge programs, make sure that any program you use fits your employees’ needs, your company’s culture and wellness culture. (Learn more in A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Employees Set Personal Wellness Goals).

For example, offering a sports league that requires a significant time commitment outside of work hours will be less attractive to employees with young families or significant family commitments. Offering challenges that require a high level of physical fitness from the very start can discourage employees who are out-of-shape, older, or have physical limitations, and lead them to avoid participating.

Some work cultures are filled with cheerleading and good-natured rivalries. Others are more reserved. You want to use communication practices, incentives, and recognition that is in sync with your workplace norms. (Learn more in 8 Workplace Wellness Apps to Boost Your Wellness Program).

Personalize The Fitness Challenge For Your Workforce

Not every fitness challenge will be a good fit for every employee, so offer some choice in how employees can participate. You want the challenge to be inclusive of people with different fitness levels and objectives, and who have various amounts of time available to participate. You can do this in several ways.

  1. Offer more than one kind or level of fitness challenge. Not everyone is going to be interested or able to participate in a sports league. Perhaps offer an office softball team, for the more competitive individuals who are looking for a group sport, and a charity walk team for those who want to participate but don't want a significant weekly commitment.
  2. Offer fitness challenges that can be completed during the normal workday. Organize lunchtime walks or encourage walking meetings — just don’t have the marathoner set the pace! A challenge that takes place during the workday demonstrates your company’s commitment to workplace wellness and employee health.
  3. Make it very easy to start the fitness challenge. One example of a very easy challenge is give people a wearable with an app that tracks the number of steps a person takes each day. All the person has to do (at the start) is put the wearable tracker on and go about their normal day. The tracker records the steps and the app saves and displays the results.
  4. Think outside the physical exercise box. Wellness comes from more than just physical activity. Consider a fitness challenge that is aimed at improving eating habits or stress management. One idea is to use a smartphone app that teaches meditation, then track how often people practice, like you would count steps.
  5. Build in some fun. Everyone likes a celebration and every workplace has their favorite way to recognize people and their achievements. Whether it’s a fun event where awards are given out, a mention in the company newsletter, or bringing in a catered lunch, be sure to include something fun in the program.

Communicate The Benefits Of The Fitness Challenge Clearly

As with any workplace initiative, you will need a communications plan for the fitness challenge. You want to make sure every employee knows what the challenge is, what’s in it for them, how to participate, and why the company is organizing the fitness challenge.

To help ensure a successful fitness challenge:

  • Keep your communications simple and straightforward
  • Be honest about what’s in it for the company, as well as the employees
  • Answer people’s questions and address their concerns
  • Keep communications channels open throughout the challenge

You may have some employees who resist participating in the challenge. They might not feel comfortable doing the challenge with co-workers. They might fear that how well or poorly they do in the challenge will affect their health insurance or job rating. They might have some physical or psychological condition that keeps them from participating.

That's completely okay. Don’t force anyone to participate. Workplace fitness challenges are voluntary.

If you come up against employee resistance, try to find out the reason behind it and address that honestly.

Enroll Participants From Every Level And Group In Your Company

Call upon company leadership to publicly support and participate in the fitness challenge. Not only does this clearly demonstrate the company’s commitment to wellness in the workplace, it may also encourage others to participate.

Additionally, make sure you are being inclusive. Don’t just target employees who are already fit or those who seem like they need to improve their fitness most. Everyone can benefit from improved fitness — whether it’s through more physical activity, better eating, or meditation.

By enrolling people from across the company you create an opportunity for people to team up and get to know each other when they wouldn’t otherwise. This can help break down barriers and build camaraderie.

A Healthy Workplace Is A Happy Workplace

It’s been said that “good health is good business.” Organizing a workplace fitness challenge can be a good way to reap the rewards of wellness in the workplace. Through careful planning and engagement you can have a successful fitness challenge from kickoff through completion.