All's Well(ness) That Ends Well
Every Fall for the last four years we’ve rolled out a Wellness Incentive Program here at Viget. In order to make this possible, we negotiate a wellness incentive fund into our contract with our healthcare provider so there’s a pot of money available to us if we choose to devise “proactive wellness activities” that encourage staff to lead healthier lives. Free money is a great motivator (though not the only motivator — more on that later), so we’ve managed to come up with something every year since the fund has been available to us.
This Year’s Challenge
This past year, we put together a challenging program that offered multiple wellness activities:
No Soda for 6 weeks.
Meatless Mondays for 12 weeks.
No Elevator November.
Project Zero (gain no weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s).
Participate in a structured race (5K, marathon, etc.).
The program started the Tuesday after Labor Day and lasted through New Year’s Day. People only had to complete one activity to earn a gift card, but everyone was encouraged to challenge themselves to do more than one activity. Anyone who completed all 5 activities qualified for a special drawing in which they had the chance to earn an extra gift card. (Special shout-out to Greg Kohn, the sole participant to successfully complete all five challenges!) The program operated on the honor system: employees “signed” an electronic pledge at the beginning of the program indicating the challenges they planned to tackle — and then “signed” the pledge again at the end of the program to acknowledge the activity(ies) they had actually completed.
How We Did
Turns out, some of us know ourselves very well. And, some of us surprised ourselves.
45% of us completed the same number of challenges we originally targeted as a goal
41% of us aimed high, but fell shorter than our original goal
14% of us were encouraged by the challenges going on around us and ended up completing more than originally planned.
Of those of us who fell shorter than our original goals, there was a pretty even spread across the challenges that tripped us up with “No Elevator”, “Meatless Mondays”, and “Project Zero” tying as our nemeses. Only 4 of us originally planned to abstain from soda and then didn’t. I can speak to one case first-hand: I disqualified myself after enjoying a couple Vodka Tonics and then learning that tonic water should count as soda!
By far, the “No Soda” challenge was the most popular among our participants. Understand that free soda has been a staple at Viget for 17 years. It’s always stocked, icy cold, and very tantalizing. We all know the health benefits from eliminating soda from our diets; however, for many of us (myself especially), soda is a difficult habit to break. For others who frequently drink water anyway, this challenge was an added incentive to continue this healthy habit.
Additionally, despite needing to complete only one challenge to earn a gift card, we had just as many people complete additional wellness challenges where self-satisfaction and better health were the only rewards.
Going into this year’s wellness program, I wasn’t sure whether we’d pique people’s interests since the challenges were more difficult than some we had done in years past — however, we had a high level of engagement in our wellness program this year! Looking at our historical data, we can see that interest from staff has been increasing the last several years, which isn’t too surprising. We have a very health-oriented office culture as our Office Manager, Sarah Schraer, shared in her blog post last year.
In a follow-up survey to staff, I asked for more insight into people’s motivations. Why did they participate? Did any behaviors become longer-lasting habits? Did they realize any unforeseen results from the challenges? And, lastly, did they have suggestions for future wellness challenges?
91% of respondents cited the the gift card as either their primary or among their motivations for participating. So, money does talk.
52% of respondents also cited health and competition as motivators. We have a spirit of friendly competition here at Viget and, with a fixed bonus pool, the value of the gift cards was determined by the total number of successful participants. The fewer the participants, the higher the gift card value — not that we didn’t root for everyone to be successful!
In terms of changing behaviors, feedback mostly revolved around an increased awareness of making good choices. Since the challenges ended, people report:
More consistently avoiding soda.
More regularly choosing vegetarian options.
Being more mindful of their eating habits.
Being more disciplined about taking the stairs.
Some of the things mentioned as unforeseen results of the challenges included:
Becoming more sensitive to sugar during the “No Soda” challenge and, as a result, paring down sugar intake elsewhere.
Realizing that “No Soda” resulted in “No Caffeine” and, as a result, sleeping more soundly at night.
Buying a wifi scale (that uploads data to Fitbits, etc.) to better track weight.
Not feeling sick from overeating during the holidays.
Starting (and continuing) a weight journal.
Needing to kick up the cardio at the gym after becoming winded taking the stairs.
Looking to the Future
Staff are extremely interested in participating in another wellness challenge this year and have some fantastic ideas about what might be included the next time around. A sampling of challenge suggestions is provided below as food for thought:
No sugar or no desserts.
No fried foods.
Move more. There were many suggestions for variations of walking/running “x” number of steps or miles per day/week/month.
Drink a specific amount of water/day.
No eating after 8:00 pm.
Going to the gym or working out x times/week. There were also many suggestions for variations of this idea.
No TV or social media.
No white grains.
Minimum hours of sleep.
Name your vice and refrain from that for x period of time (could be chips for one person, chocolate for another).
Cook 3 meals/day every day for a month.
We’ll keep you posted on how this next year’s challenge works for us. Hopefully, our experience will inspire some of you to try something similar at your workplace!