How to Create your Own Workplace Wellness Challenge

Challenges are a great way to get people involved in making a change. While change is not always something people look forward to, making an effort to beat a challenge brings out the competitive spirit in a lot of individuals. By making a competition out of your workplace wellness challenge, you are more likely to have employees to involve themselves and take it seriously. 

How do you create a workplace wellness challenge that not only has participation but is effective in helping employees to make a lifestyle change? The best workplace wellness challenges include a behavior change model known as AMSO – Awareness, Motivation, Skills, and Opportunities. By analyzing each aspect of the model, you can begin to see how each step is important in developing your own workplace wellness challenge. 

Understanding AMSO requires a study into each component. Simply applying awareness, motivation, skills, and opportunities to a challenge isn’t enough, however. Creating a workplace wellness challenge is costly, requires leadership, and has its own drawbacks, but ultimately can make a positive impact on participants.

AMSO Behavior Change Model as Applied to Workplace Wellness Challenges

It might be easy to remember that AMSO means Awareness, Motivation, Skills, and Opportunities, but what do these things mean when it comes to workplace wellness challenges? To put it simply, success without the use of this model in a wellness challenge is not likely. In fact, without awareness, motivation, skills, and opportunities, companies will probably fail to get the participation needed to make the cost of a program worth it. 

Behavior Change: Awareness

The awareness aspect of the behavior change model is often the portion in which companies put most of their efforts, time, and money. Unfortunately, awareness is not typically the issue when it comes to needing a change. Most people know the dangers of smoking, that vegetables are healthier than a greasy burger, or that they are overweight without their employer needing to make it clear to them. 

Imagine all of the health or wellness awareness posters, emails, and flyers that an employer puts out there for employees in an effort to inform of the topic at hand. While the information might be helpful to the handful of people that read them. The majority of informational materials provided to employees are full of facts that the common person already knows. 

So, awareness of the problem isn’t necessarily the issue when it comes to change. What awareness can do is educate workers on how to solve the problem. This is where a workplace wellness challenge comes into play. By making employees aware of the available solutions to their potential wellness problem and informing them of a workplace-wide challengeOpens in a new tab., a company has the ability to bring attention to the known issue and present the answer employees may have been looking for.

Behavior Change: Motivation

Without motivation, what gets accomplished? In truth, without motivation, it is unlikely that anyone is going to participate that could benefit from the challenge. The guy in accounting that spends his free time training for marathons probably does not meet the target market for a company attempting to get their employees to be more active. Of course, he will participate if it is something that he already partakes in. The motivation must be something that drives those that do not regularly work out, eat healthily, or do general wellness activities into the challenge.

In the case of motivation for a workplace wellness challengeOpens in a new tab., incentives are key. You have to consider your employees and what they find motivating. Most individuals find prizes the most motivating thing for a challenge. What’s even more surprising is that gifts and prizes are more motivational than paid time off. When you consider the fact that a paid day off might add up to hundreds of dollars, the idea that a $50 gift card is more motivational is odd. However, people like the tangible gift as it feels more like a prize.

Motivation is also found in the simplicity of the wellness challenge. An over-complicated challenge not only pushes people away from starting the challenge, keeping up with it requires even more motivation than necessary. With a simple program, more individuals will partake and motivate one another. 

Behavior Change: Skills

Without the skills necessary for a real change, workers are unlikely to meet goals or make a lasting improvement in wellness. This is the most imperative aspect of a workplace wellness challenge. The challenge is all good and funOpens in a new tab., but it must come with instructions, so to speak.

While it might be more costly than simply offering a challenge with incentives, providing your employees with the tools necessary to change their lifestyle is the ideal route to take. This might mean having a fitness instructor to teach employees how to properly use gym equipment, a nutritionist to teach them how to keep track of their food intake, or a therapist to discuss ways to best handle stress. 

Although the challenge may end after a set amount of time, the lifestyle that had been adopted throughout the challenge does not have to. By offering employees the chance to develop useful skills for their personal wellness, they have a better idea of how to move forward once the challenge has reached its end. 

Behavior Change: Opportunities

The opportunity portion of AMSO has to do with the environment that encourages the healthiest choice. The opportunity to fall back on old habits must not be encouraged by the employee’s environment or workplace. It has to be an easy choice to remain healthy or well. 

What does this mean for an office space? For many offices, this means that Friday morning donuts should be replaced with a healthier optionOpens in a new tab.. The variety of high-calorie and high-fat creamers at the coffee station might be replaced with skim, Oat, or Almond milk. Stairs in the office building should be clean and well lit. Regular, old desks might even be switched out for sit-stand desks. 

The opportunity for change requires a change in all areas. Although an employee might do wonderfully in their controlled environment at home, returning to a workplace full of temptation can take a changed individual off of their new track and right back where they started. In order to fully support and encourage change in wellness practices, an employer must see the opportunity for change in their own space.

Read our reviews of Corporate Wellness companies hereOpens in a new tab.

Leadership Required for a Successful Workplace Wellness Challenge

Implementing a successful workplace wellness challenge without the influence of a quality leader is a challenge in itself. There are so many roles and responsibilities that a good leader can take on in order to make a positive impact on a wellness challenge and its participants. With a proper leader, a workplace wellness challenge can cause real lifestyle changes. 

Inspire Change

How do leaders go about inspiring changeOpens in a new tab.? While some leaders have a talent for talking others into action, most need to take action themselves. They lead by example. This means that the leaders are active participants in wellness challenges and activities. 

Great leaders in wellness programs also set goals for the company to reach as a whole. These goals might include losing a collective 250 pounds, walking 500 miles total, or let out stresses in a journal over 1000 pages. Setting goals that the group can work toward together makes leadership more involved and gets others to join in as well. 

Leadership should have the ability to inspire change by creating a sense of competition.  Whether competition is between defined teams, departments, or individuals, a good wellness leader can find a way to get everyone involved. Often times this is by arranging something for the winners.

Award Successes

Although a wellness challenge typically has one big end goal, there should be smaller goals along the way. A leader in a wellness challenge can recognize individuals or teams that reach these goals or those that have a good amount of participation. Recognition can be as simple as announcing names on a public or company-wide forum or even giving small gifts at the company potluck. 

Awarding successes in a wellness challenge add to the motivational aspect of leadership, but also makes individual efforts appreciated. While prizes along the way help to keep participants going, having a leader that sees the efforts that workers are putting forth is a crucial aspect of any workplace wellness challenge.

A leader can make challenge participants aware of small prizes and gifts for reaching short term goals throughout the challenge. Gifts might include water bottles, t-shirts, or stress balls. Most people love receiving new items, especially when they are small things on the way to a big prize. It keeps them motivated and lets them know that leaders see the hard work they are doing. 

Engage in Activities

Having a leader that participates in the wellness challenge is crucial, but it is also important that leaders take part in other aspects of the challenge as well. Any meetings, weigh-ins, or other activities should have real participation from leadership. Leaders might organize events, present information and awards, or take an active part in teaching skills. 

Expect your leaders to arrange lunchtime walks, suggest runs as a group, or even invite coworkers out to eat where they can learn to choose healthy options at a restaurant. Leaders that are engaging in activities with other participants are those that can cultivate a bond in which healthy choices are encouraged by one another. Coworkers and leaders can build each other up when they are feeling discouraged or can lead them to make the healthy choice when another piece of chocolate cake is tempting. 

Doing these kinds of activities is far more comfortable for both parties when the leader has played an active part in the challenge and events themselves. A leader that has not participated, but attempts to motivate others is likely one that does not find success in encouraging employees. Leaders must prove their motivation to be worthy prior to offering it up.

Shape Culture

A company’s culture can take a lot of time to develop. However, it can be easy to make a few changes to cultivate a culture that encourages wellness. Rather than being overly strict about breaks and lunchtimes, you can allow employees an extra few minutes each day to add a walk to their break. It might require a slight change to standard policies, but it can benefit both the employees and the employer simultaneously.

Culture can also be adjusted by removing vending machines with unhealthy snacks and beverages. Instead, a company can offer free fruits and vegetables to snack on and offer vending machines with real fruit juice instead of soda. While this transition can be hard on those that are not interested in participating in any challenges, it does serve to make the company culture one that appreciates the health of their employees.

Leaders that are willing to sacrifice their beloved lunchtime soda or morning junk food have an impact on the company culture as a whole. While one person does not develop the culture alone, a leader that leads by example tends to get more and more people on board with their ideas and workplace habits. When a team of leaders take action to create a healthy and well-being based culture, the company can see a real change.

Building Leadership for a Wellness Challenge

It is clear that leadership should be able to inspire change, award successes, engage in activities, and shape culture. How does a company determine the best leaders to do all of those things? Once leaders have been decided on, how can you convince leaders to take part and believe in the importance of the challenge? 

Some leaders might be on board from the get-go. Others, however, require a bit more work. When you successfully get a leader to believe in the program, they can then turn other employees on to the idea of partaking in the challenge as well. Leaders can then recruit co-workers into a wellness task force. 

A wellness task force can offer up a variety of ideas and thoughts that a single leader might not have come up with. When recruiting people for your task force, it is important to have diversity and people that have a passion for wellness. The task force will be responsible for creating a more open line of communication and getting others involved in the challenge. 

Leaders and the task force then have to address the awareness portion of the AMSO model. Awareness, in this case, means making employees aware of the workplace wellness challenge being put in place. In addition to word of mouth, leaders and the task force can utilize email, text messages, flyers, and more to inform others in the office. 

In order to encourage participation, leaders can ensure that people know that participation has its benefits. Wellness challenge participants might get a discount on their monthly insurance premiums or get a better insurance plan than non-participants. Communicating these benefits to the company on a wide scale will allow individuals to see the incentive to join the program. 

Leadership is crucial to a successful workplace wellness challenge. You might select a natural leader that cares about wellness to start with. From there, ensure that you have a task force that is willing to encourage others to engage in the challenge. They must also be capable of sharing correct information about the challenge and any goals that have been set. Once you have a leader and a task force, you will be more likely to have a workplace wellness challenge that helps to make lifestyle changes.

Drawbacks of a Workplace Wellness Challenge

Workplace wellness challenges are not foolproof. There are always drawbacks to any kind of wellness challenge, and those in the workplace are no different. Wellness challenges can be costly, ineffective, and may not include everyone. Learning why each of these aspects is a part of a great wellness challenge and what can be done to company them is important in having the most success with your own workplace wellness challenge.

Costly to Implement

Upfront, a workplace wellness challenge can be expensive. At first, it may seem as though there is a lot of money being thrown away. Understanding the costs of a workplace wellness challenge is best, as it goes deeper than simply upfront costs. It also includes a return on investment of sorts.

The cost of a wellness program depends on how much a company wants to spend. Research shows that the cost of a wellness program in 2015 averaged just under $700 per employee.Opens in a new tab. By 2017, that number had increased almost $50Opens in a new tab. per employee. This cost typically includes an app for employees to utilize in tracking their wellness, various resources, and the implementation of the AMSO model. While nearly $750 may seem like a lot to invest in each worker, employers are discovering the vast benefits of doing so.

One of the most obvious reasons a wellness program benefits employers is work attendance. Healthier people are less likely to need sick days. Wellness programs have the ability to lower obesity rates, cease smoking, and decrease stress and anxiety. Individuals that use wellness programs to achieve these things get sick less. In addition to needing fewer sick days, employees won’t be as likely to come to work sick. Their illness will not spread throughout the office and they will not be unproductive as a result of being sick at work. 

More than 50% of employers offer at least 5 paid sick days in a year. Given that the average American employee makes more than $27 per hour, an 8 hour day of paid sick leave comes out to $216. That means companies are losing more than $1,000 per year of productivity per employee. While a wellness program does not mean that employers should put a stop to their paid sick leave, it does mean that the loss of productivity does not have to be so grand. Paid sick days might be paid out at the end of the year after they go unused, but in addition to paying, companies can retain the work achieved during those paid days. 

Another benefit of wellness challenges and programs is the long retention of employees. Workers will feel appreciated and stick around, plus they will have a better chance to be healthy enough to work until retirement age. When employers invest in the health and wellness of their employees, it makes them feel as though their employer actually cares. While some companies have wellness programs solely for the benefit of the company, 75% offer employee wellness programs as a result of genuinely caring for employee health and well-being. 

Results Not Guaranteed

Despite your efforts to get employees to be healthier and to have improved well-being, not all participants will take the challenge seriously. Or, they might take it seriously but discontinue the lifestyle changes once the challenge reaches its end. Ultimately, reaping the benefits of a workplace wellness challenge is not always possible. You might not see the return on investment that you were hoping for. 

However, changes in your employees as a whole are impossible if there is no effort put forth on the company’s part. You might consider it a gamble, but a workplace wellness challenge can only be as successful as you allow it to be. Failure also depends on what you are seeking to achieve. Perhaps you wanted to decrease healthcare costs. In reality, a single 6-week challenge is unlikely to make a huge impact on that goal. Instead, a handful of 6-week challenges over the course of a year can do better to reach that goal. Make employee wellness an ongoing priority to get the most bang for your buck.

Not Everyone Will Participate

Be honest with yourself about how many people you truly expect to participate in a wellness challenge. Some people are simply unhealthy and enjoy their life that way. No wellness challenge will entice them to change their ways if they are set in said ways. While not everyone will participate, with the above-mentioned steps, you will get participation that can make an impact on the company. 

Some companies fear that a workplace wellness challenge will divide the participants from the non-participants. While this might be true, a challenge that includes the majority of the employees has the ability to bring the workers closer. As a result, the employees with a bond are more productive in their work together. Seeing such an improvement might even inspire non-participating workers to give the next wellness challenge a try. 

Get Started with Your Own Workplace Wellness Challenge

With all of the knowledge about workplace wellness challenges just thrown at you, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. There is a lot to learn and a lot to consider when starting your own. By breaking down each component into steps, you can be better prepared to get started! 

After understanding the components you want to include in a wellness challenge, you must start with finding a leader to head things up. If the leader you have in mind is not fully on board, you have to lay out the benefits in a way that convinces them wholeheartedly. The leader can then recruit a wellness task force. 

It is then the responsibility of the leader and his or her task force to discuss AMSO and solve any potential problems before they start. Then, they will put AMSO to work by creating awareness about potential health and wellness concerns. It is also the responsibility of the task force to inform other employees about the wellness challenge.

The leader and his or her task force just then keep other employees and one another motivated to continue with the challenge. They do this by offering positivity and incentives. Those incentives are most effective when they are offered for each small goal in addition to reaching the end of the challenge. 

Employees should also be taught the necessary skills for a wellness challenge in order to continue beyond the initial change for the sole purpose of the challenge. The greatest success can be found if the skills are made a priority. With skills, employees can carry their lifestyle changes throughout the rest of their lives.

Next, the leader, task force, and company, in general, must provide the opportunity and ease for employees to make the best choices in the workplace. This might mean policy changes or the availability of healthy options in the food court. Making a commitment to continuing to be a positive influence on the health and well-being of employees is crucial to making change last. 

By following these steps and investing in employee wellness, your company can see a return on investment. It is important that you try to keep costs as low as possible to see a return, but not shy from the investment completely, as it is necessary for real change. Even if the company does not see as much return financially as planned, the impact that is made on employee lives and well-being should be reason enough to give an employee wellness challenge a try. 

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Related Questions

What is wellness? Wellness is a term that encapsulates more than just health. Being physically healthy is one facet of wellness. It also means mentally healthy, financially stable, and even spiritually secure. Wellness is simply everything about a person that affects the quality of their life. (We have written a summary of – The Healthy WorkplaceOpens in a new tab.)

Should companies have an in-office gym for employees?  While an in-office gym would make a great perk, it is not completely necessary. It can be costly – especially if only a few employees are going to put it to use. Instead, a discount at a local gym can be equally effective. 

How can employers include handicapped employees in wellness challenges? Challenges in workplaces with handicapped employees can be altered to be all-inclusive. Instead of running challenges, use more vague guidelines. For example, instead of challenging employees to run a 5k, challenge employees to burn a set number of calories per week. This way, those confined to wheelchairs or with other handicaps can achieve the goal in their own way.


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