16 workplace wellness challenge ideas to try at the office
Engagement 12 minute read

16 workplace wellness challenge ideas to try at the office

Rise | September 7, 2023

A workplace wellness challenge is a way to encourage employees to adopt healthier habits. By implementing small and fun changes they can improve their overall wellness. It’s also a great way to demonstrate to employees that you care about their health at work and outside of it.

Companies could all be better about focusing on their people's personal health and wellness. When employees are healthy, not only do they feel better, but they're also more productive and more likely to take fewer sick days. A healthy workforce leads to a healthy business. One way to do that? A workplace wellness challenge. 

A workplace wellness challenge is a great way to encourage healthy habits amongst employees. The idea is to gamify health challenges and incentivize team members to stick to their health and wellness goals. 

Challenges can take many forms depending on which area of health your team members are most committed to improving. Don’t limit yourself to physical health and diet, either. Mental health and financial health can also go a long way toward making employees feel good.

We’ve compiled a list of 16 workplace wellness challenge ideas to get you started.

1. Walk or bike to work

This challenge invites team members to forego driving to work in favour of walking or biking. Ask employees to walk or bike one day per week for six weeks. Not only is walking or biking better for the environment, but it’s also a great way to get moving and stay fit. For this challenge, reward team members by giving every employee who walks or bikes a small incentive for each day they do it, and upon completion of the challenge, give gift cards for a local athletic outfitter.

If many of your employees commute from a distance that is will not be feasible for them to walk or bike, you can also encourage carpooling. While this isn't necessarily a health benefit for them, it is better for the planet. If your team is hybrid or remote, you can suggest tracking steps as an alternative, as listed in #9.

2. Take the stairs

This is an obvious choice if you work on the fifth floor or below. But for those of you on the 30th floor, this one could be a little more challenging. Invite employees to take the stairs instead of the elevator every day for 30 days. Keep a chart at the top of the stairs where participants can put a checkmark next to their name for every day they take the stairs. For team members who take the stairs every day, reward them with a healthy catered lunch.

3. Pack your lunch

Eating out is not only more expensive than making meals at home, but it can also be costly to your health. Restaurants tend to use more salt and sugar when cooking, and it can be hard to find healthy choices on the average menu. Challenge team members to pack their own lunches instead of eating out. Let them choose the number of purchased meals they’d like to replace with homemade ones, but a realistic suggestion is four days per week. That leaves one lunch open for “cheat days” or lunch meetings.

For a further incentive, reward employees who stick to their healthy eating goals with a gift card at the local organic grocer.

4. Drink more water

We all know drinking enough water is important, but sometimes it’s hard to make a habit of hydration. As an employer, you can help your team members by making sure access to clean water is available throughout your office and hosting a water-drinking challenge. Invite employees to track how much water they drink in a day, and reward those who meet or exceed the recommended intake 8 glasses of water a day. Alternatively, ask employees to replace one glass of juice or pop per day with a glass of water.

An obvious reward for this challenge is a nice reusable water bottle—although you may want to give it away in the beginning so team members have something to drink out of.

5. Workout challenge

Exercise is an important part of any healthy lifestyle. But with busy schedules and balancing family needs with hobbies and work, it can be hard to find time to hit the gym. Make sure you give employees the time they need to exercise, even if that means offering a more flexible schedule. You can also offer subsidized fitness passes or invite personal trainers and coaches to the office to create workouts for employees.

Ask employees to create their own personal goals related to cardiovascular health, flexibility, strength training, or overall wellness. Inviting them to choose their own goals—and rewards—can create a sense of ownership. And rather than creating a culture of competition, make it a "buddy system": link up those team members with similar personal goals, and invite them to challenge and support each other every step of the way.

6. Daily meditation

Mental wellness is an important part of an employee’s overall health, and meditation is a great way to foster brain—and body—health. Some employers offer in-office meditation classes, quiet rooms, yoga passes, or free memberships to meditation centres in their city.

Try challenging employees to incorporate meditation into their healthy lifestyle by offering lunchtime yoga classes. There are also a variety of meditation apps that can help team members get started in their own free time. Check out apps like Headspace and Calm to get started.

7. Join a sport

Intramural soccer, a badminton league, or swimming at the local pool—there are many affordable ways to join sports in almost every city in Canada. Your company’s wellness challenge could be to encourage employees to create sports teams or join existing ones. Your business could even “sponsor” the teams by getting them jerseys with your logo on them.

Sports are not only a fantastic way to get exercise, but they are also a great opportunity for cross-departmental communication and relationship-building.

8. Start a hobby

According to Psychology Today, having a hobby reduces stress, fosters social connection, and makes you more efficient at managing your time. So even if your wellness challenge isn’t about diet and exercise, encouraging employees to cultivate new hobbies could have just as much of a positive effect on their wellness.

Ask employees to challenge themselves to start that hobby they’ve always thought about, like picking up an instrument or taking an art class. You can incentivize them by helping to subsidize the cost, or connecting them with other people who work in your organization who might have a similar hobby and getting them to challenge each other.

9. 10,000 steps challenge

The CDC recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week, which equates to about 30 minutes per day. At Fitbit, everyone starts off with a 10,000-step goal, and here’s why: It adds up to about five miles each day for most people, which includes about 30 minutes of daily exercise. The health benefits? “Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that 30 minutes of walking each day cut stroke risk by a minimum of 20%.”

Pedometers are relatively cheap to acquire. Try giving one to each employee, and rewarding all employees who get over 10,000 steps per day for a full month. The grand prize goes to the team member who accumulates the most steps. If you aren't able to provide pedometers, most smart phones also track steps if location is turned on. Encourage employees who don't have their own pedometers or smart watches to use their phones to keep track.

10. Smoking cessation

It's common knowledge that many health risks are associated with smoking. As one of the most addictive substances on the planet, cigarettes are a hard habit to shake. Aid those employees looking to quit smoking with a challenge. The reward for this one can be sizeable but broken up into constituent parts, because most people don’t quit cold turkey.

Reward employees who make it to one month, three months, six months, and one year without smoking with increasingly large rewards. For this challenge, make sure they have the resources they need and even invite them to bring their family members in on the challenge. For example, if someone’s spouse smokes, ask them to share in the challenge as well. We’re more likely to shake bad habits if we eliminate the impulses from our surroundings.

11. 5-kilometre run

There are a wide range of opportunities to sign up for 5K runs, especially when the weather is nice. Setting a fitness goal like running a given distance can help employees get motivated to train. You can even download a running app to track your progress. Reward employees who participate by planning a party to celebrate their successful run, and invite them to challenge their peers, both within and outside of the company.

12. Volunteering and community engagement

Volunteering is good for your health and for your community. According to a study, "adults over age 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers.” The study also showed that adults who regularly volunteered had reduced stress levels and generally lived longer.

However, these results were only true if the volunteer’s intentions were truly altruistic. So, rather than offering incentives to employees who volunteer, just make sure you give those who are interested in philanthropy ample time and resources to do so. In fact, many companies will offer employees up to a week of paid time off as long as they use it to volunteer. Deloitte even offers unlimited paid time for volunteering.

And for those employees who are interested in both philanthropy and physical wellness? Reward them for giving back and getting fit by donating to a charity of their choice in their name. It's a win-win!

13. Sleep 7 hours

The consequences of not getting enough sleep are dire. According to a study by Harvard University, “in the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.”

In other words, make sure your employees are catching consistent Zs. If you want to challenge employees to sleep more, you could give them access to a sleep tracking app. Create a sleep challenge at work: can you get 7 hours of sleep a night (the optimum number of hours, according to the Sleep Foundation) for 24 days straight? Reward winners with a cool sleep-related prize like one of these gadgets.

14. Positivity challenge

This challenge is all about improving mental wellness. According to Forbes, “grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people.”

Challenge employees to write down one thing every day that they are grateful for. They can share it with a colleague or keep it private. The positive feelings from participating in this challenge are reward enough, but you could further incentivize participants with some gratitude of your own. After 30 days of gratitude, reward those who have consistently kept up with their gratitude tracking by offering them a “gratitude day”—a paid day off to show gratitude to themselves and their loved ones.

15. Financial wellness

Personal finances are one of the top ten causes of stress. Challenge employees to reduce their financial stress by giving them the resources they need to make sure they’re on top of their financial wellness. Consider rewarding those employees who actively make use of the resources—whether it’s access to a financial planner, investment courses, or savings plans—with cash bonuses.

You can also invite employees to create personal financial goals, and then reward them for their progress. For example, if an employee is saving for a house or struggling to pay off student loans, offer to match a certain percentage of their own efforts to help them reach their goals faster.

If you're unable to provide rewards to your employees, providing them with resources to take control of their financial health is still a great place to start.

16. Benefits challenge

Some believe that encouraging your employees to use their benefits costs your business in the long run. Many companies still believe this outdated myth. In reality, encouraging your employees to make use of their extended benefits—especially when they’re being proactive with their health like with massage therapy and diet consultations—may make your premiums go up in the short term, but it saves you in the long run by making your employees healthier, more productive, and less likely to miss work for health reasons.

With that in mind, challenge employees to make use of their extended benefits. Reward employees who use their monthly massage allowance, or who visit an acupuncturist or wellness coach. You could even theme certain months to correspond with the benefits you offer. During “Oral Health Month,” reward employees who book and attend dental appointments. Same goes for “Vision Month,” “Muscle Month,” and so on. You can get creative with it, and even reach out to local wellness practitioners to set up a partnership, working with them to reward employees with additional services.

There you have it, 16 of our favourite workplace wellness challenge ideas.

Remember, health and wellness are personal pursuits. Regularly check in with your employees to make sure they have the resources they need. Invite them to create their own wellness challenges, and to stick to their personal goals. Rather than making them participate in the wellness challenges your company implements, try incorporating wellness initiatives into your discussions around professional development, and support them in whatever way you can.

Healthy employees, after all, make for a healthy business.

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