As wellness programs move towards the front and center of any employee-focused organization, its component, step challenges, follows. The appeal of step challenges is obvious: they are fun, easy, and they promote better health for participants with few downsides.
If you want to start a step challenge at your company, you will probably need to get management approval or buy-in, which comes by neither easily nor quickly. Fear not! Here are five arguments (and counterarguments) you can present to your boss to help make a case for a step challenge initiative!
1. They Boost Engagement
Many step challenges encourage both individual and team competitions. Employees can work to increase their personal ranking as well as that of their team. Because of this, step challenges work to promote not only peer-to-peer competition but also cooperation and engagement.
I’ve heard many step challenge participants talk about getting to know co-workers that they otherwise wouldn’t have met through competing on the same team. While the interactions in itself are not work-related, they can set the stage for future cross-departmental collaborations, which can improve business outcomes.
This is especially true for new employees, most of which will benefit tremendously from getting acquainted with their new colleagues quickly. For this reason, I highly recommend companies run step challenge when they have a batch of new hires, which usually happens in the summer.
2. They Help Improve Employee Health
Countless studies have shown that walking throughout the day helps improve health. In fact, it is probably healthier for you to be walking in short sessions throughout the day than opting for a standing desk, as new studies are questioning the benefits of sedentary standing. People just don’t walk enough.
Step challenges give participants reasons to stand up and walk away from their desks. Many challenge participants reported organizing walking meetings or lunch walking groups to help boost their step count. While increasing step count in itself is admittedly not enough to result in better health, it is one of the many habits that will pay (health) dividends if practiced daily.
3. However, They Are NOT Going to Yield Positive ROI
Many companies look at wellness programs as investments. They reason that if they put their money into a solution, that solution should produce a measurable ROI. In the case of wellness programs, employers usually scrutinize healthcare claims or premiums for savings. Unfortunately, investing in a step challenge will not yield a positive ROI. At least not in the traditional way.
While it is true that step challenges will help improve some aspects of employee health, it is not a silver bullet. Most step challenges are single-dimensional, as they focus only on step count. Unfortunately, walking, especially at a leisure pace, will not satisfy the 150-minute of moderate to intense physical activity recommended by the CDC. Even if it did, it still does not touch the many other aspects that are important to one’s health, namely nutrition, mental, and social needs.
Does it mean that companies should not consider setting up step challenges at all? Not necessarily.
Instead of looking strictly for ROI, employers should shift their attention to VOI, or value-on-investment. VOI for step challenges or wellness programs, in general, can be found in higher productivity, higher retention, higher employee satisfaction, etc. An example of VOI through employee health can be observed at Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). Here, they found that teachers who participated in the wellness programs reported higher student academic achievements.
Define what matters to your business, then measure the VOI that way. Step challenges and other health and wellness initiatives might show improvement in unexpected areas, such as customer satisfaction or retention.
4. If They Are Not Fun, You’re Not Doing It Right
When thinking of step challenges, many people think of a dull program where people wear basic pedometers and report their daily steps to a spreadsheet. Your boss might roll their eyes when you bring up a step challenge because of this negative impression. This is a shame because step challenges can be so much more!
Most platforms now allow participants to sync their wearable devices and automatically log their steps to a leaderboard, taking away the boring data-entry work. Many programs also dress up step challenges in fun themes, such as “Office Hop” (employees “walk” the distance between different company offices) or “Climb Mount Everest” (participants walk 5.5 miles each day, which is roughly the elevation of Mount Everest).
The point is: a bland or checking-the-box type of walking challenge will not benefit anybody. Thoughtful challenges should be fun and engaging. This can only be achieved by designing a program that fits with the organization’s culture. For example, an “Office Hop” challenge will only make sense for businesses with multiple locations. Companies that are more social-conscious might benefit from incorporating volunteering time and making donations on behalf of participants rather than giving out big prizes.
5. They Are Cheaper Than You Think
Platforms that help organizers run step challenges are getting drastically cheaper. A 4-week step challenge for 100 users with full account management will only cost around $500, or less than 16 cents per participant per day.
Alternatively, small employers can look to administer their own challenge. While it is more work than just getting a plug-and-play software, it also bypasses the often-difficult approval process because it does not require an upfront payment. Here’s a step challenge template that will help you get started!
If your organization has yet to start a wellness program, walking challenges can be a great first step (no pun intended). Organizing a low cost, 4-week “trial challenge” and present its efficacy will surely help you secure budget for future programming.
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