By Fonda Narke
For most of us, exercise is a daily slog – that’s why there’s Jazzercise, Zumba, spin classes, and the like. They’re the exercise equivalent of putting a packet of flavoring in your water to convince yourself to drink more; a way to make exercise more palatable.
And still, solitude and boredom are two of the biggest barriers to getting the proper amount of exercise. A class full of people can still feel impersonal, and doing the same thing over and over for weeks on end can get dull. Sure, if you’re running or weight lifting and you achieve a goal there’s a momentary high, but then it tends to become routine again.
Contrast that to how you got exercise when you were a child or young adult. Then, everything was a competition, whether it was trying to win in a formal sport or just seeing who could get home the fastest. You did it not because you were worried about your cholesterol or your blood pressure, but because it was fun.
That’s the element that is often lost in corporate wellbeing programs created to help the workforce get and stay healthy, so they’ll be happier and more productive. Of course they provide great, well-researched information that explains the importance of diet and exercise to overall health, and even information about things employees can do to become more active. But that’s like going to school; you can read all about how to be healthy as you munch on a bag of potato chips. Knowledge doesn’t always translate to action.
Organizations need to get their employees out of their chairs and to start enthusiastically getting more exercise. That doesn’t just take logic or evidence. It takes fun.
A different type of challenge
What really gets people up and moving is what ABC’s Wide World of Sports used to call “the drama of human athletic competition.” One of the most widely-used techniques is the corporate fitness challenge.
In these enterprise-wide events, a theme is established and individuals or teams sign up and compete against one another to accomplish a fitness goal, such as the most steps in a given period, most nights with eight hours of sleep, most weight lost, and so forth. There is a great deal of fanfare, and often prizes are offered. These types of programs can definitely have an effect on activity and participation.
The problem is the effect is often temporary. Once the program is over, most employees go back to their old habits. Maybe a few changed their couch potato ways, which is good, but for many others the end of the challenge means the end of whatever activity the challenge promoted.
If you really want to make a longer-term difference, it’s important to think differently. Or rather, get your employees thinking differently.
There’s no reason the challenge has to come from corporate, or be tied to a prize. As human beings we are competitive by nature. You can take advantage of that by encouraging your employees to create their own challenges among their friends, family, department, or some other group.
Instead of just checking their FitBit numbers themselves, encourage them to share them throughout the day with others, either directly or on a platform you supply. If three of my friends and I have our own little challenge and I find myself falling behind by noon, you can bet I’ll be looking for ways during the workday or after work to get caught up, maybe by walking somewhere I would normally drive.
To up the ante a bit, you can emulate some large companies that supply their employees with FitBits or other fitness tracking devices to remove cost as a reason not to participate.
Part of the spirit of competition is having the ability to lord your victories over your friends, family, co-workers, and other competitors. This is where social media can play a part.
As part of your program, offer ways for employees to promote their daily or long-term wins on the corporate intranet, on a company Facebook page, or other social media site. Think about all the Facebook posts you’ve seen about Pokémon GO.
There’s no intrinsic value in capturing the little critters. But there’s a lot of pleasure in being able to say you caught one, especially a rare one, while other players you know have not. And let’s face it, you only really care about the other players you know.
Encouraging employees to share their results via social media gives them the thrill of victory, at least for that day, as well as encouraging their peers to join in the fun and form their own groups.
Helping those in most need
Currently, FitBits and other devices tend to be used more by those who are relatively healthy, either as a way of tracking their workouts/sleep or as a way to get them moving a little more. But what about employees who have greater needs, such as one or more chronic illnesses? Will these same sort of approaches work, or do they need something else? That’s a topic we’ll explore in my next blog post.