How to positively influence your office culture using competitions

How to positively influence your office culture using competitions

When Sarah Allswood was persuaded to join the RBI Living Well Challenge, a 30 day challenge that encouraged employees in her company to move more, she reluctantly agreed. Not being a lover of exercise, Sarah didn’t want to let the team down, but hoped that everybody would lose interest after a few days. 30 days later, Sarah completed her first 5k run, and that wasn’t all. She became very aware of how little she actually moved each day, and how much more she was actually capable of doing. She also bonded better with her work colleagues, discussing her evenings and weekends in ways she hadn’t previously. She slept better and felt more energised and this impacted her productivity at work. It felt like the start of a whole new chapter in Sarah’s life.

Why employee wellbeing initiatives make good business sense

Faced with an ever changing and pressurised work environment, many companies are embracing techniques to help employees, like Sarah, adopt healthy habits and practices to reduce risk, increase energy and performance. Most people know that doing exercise and keeping fit is an important component of a healthy lifestyle, supporting us both physically and mentally. However, the fact remains that office-based employees remain sedentary for as much as 60% of waking hours.

Whilst every employee is responsible for their own health and wellbeing, businesses increasingly have a crucial role to play in encouraging and supporting their employees to incorporate healthy habits into their lives. Whilst workplace wellbeing programmes can easily seem like peripheral activities in comparison to more significant business capabilities, the estimated cost of employee absenteeism to the Australian economy is $7bn.

So how do you encourage employees to adopt healthier lifestyle habits?

In 2015, the Living Well team at Reed Business Information (RBI) tested a simple idea to encourage their employees to try a new healthy practice.

RBI is a large information company with 3k employees based in multiple offices around the world. They wanted to encourage employees to move more in a fun and collaborative way, and launched competition style challenge called The 50 Days of Wellbeing. The challenge attracted 250 people who signed-up and pledged to do something healthy everyday for 50 days. By the end of the 50 days, there were some great lessons and insights gained, all of which fed into the planning for the 2016 Living Well challenge.

This time, though, whilst there were many similarities to 2015, there were also some significant differences which made a huge difference to the engagement levels and overall success of the challenge:

Time – 50 days was too long, so this challenge was limited to 30 days which felt more manageable, and was sufficient enough time to enable employees to learn new habits.
Team vs individual – whilst individuals can get the support of colleagues to achieve their own personal goals, it was clear that if we could get people to work as part of a team to achieve a common goal, this would be good for teamwork and collaboration as well as improving the overall fitness levels of the employees. The 2016 Living Well Challenge was therefore made a team challenge which encouraged people to set up teams of 5 and work together.
Incentives – we all need a finish line to head towards, so as well as having the clear 30 day endpoint, RBI created three prizes for the teams to aim for. One was for the team that moved the most, another for the team that made the biggest transformation and finally, to encourage sharing of activities and results, a third prize was added for the team that was most active on social media, particularly on the Living Well Facebook Group
Measurement – we knew that tracking activity was important and we wanted to make it as easy possible for participants to track their steps. To support this goal, RBI signed up to leverage an online fitness platform, Himotiv, that made it easy for people to track their individual and team activities, and also to see their team’s progress in comparison to other teams.
Focus – the first challenge gave employees the choice of eating more healthily, moving more or getting more balance. This time RBI decided to focus the challenge on movement only. It didn’t mean that the other activities weren’t important, but the assumption was that if you start with one healthy habit, this will start to create a ripple effect in your life.
Engagement – the RBI Living Well 30 Day challenge was again launched on the back of the three day Living Well Experience and proactively encouraged people to sign-up, providing a donation to charity for every team registration. Throughout the challenge, a private group on Facebook was used to profile the activities of participants from all around the world and really helped to keep people engaged, connected and motivated throughout the challenge.

Two days before the challenge was due to start 120 people in 23 teams had registered. After a big final push, 466 people in 72 teams from 22 offices from around the world had registered and were ready to start their 30 day challenge.

By the end of the 30 days, collectively the teams:

Earned 467 thousand points
Racked up 40 million steps
Travelled 32.8 thousand miles – that’s 1.3 times around the world
These were impressive stats, but there were other interesting insights too:

97% of participants completed the challenge
53% said that they were a lot more active than before the challenge began
30% proactively shared their results on social media, and found this helped with accountability
70% claimed that they will absolutely continue Living Well with the activities they undertook during the challenge
These were the very tangible benefits of this particular intervention, but when you look deeper at the comments from participants after the challenge finished, there are a number of other more significant and sustainable benefits that will have a deeper impact on the culture of the business:

Teams became stronger, learning about each other’s lives more, encouraging each other to move more for the team, if not for themselves, with good local team leadership demonstrated. There were also a number of teams made up of members from different offices, helping to create a team spirit across borders.
‘My team were made up of people from separate teams, so it was a good way to get us all communicating. We have all spoken to each other much more than we need to in our day job, which has helped team building. It has been great to see how we’ve pushed ourselves beyond where we thought our limits were’

‘I feel that this has encouraged my team to get up and talk to each other more in the office to get more points, rather than sending an email and remaining sedentary at work’

‘As a team we used whattsapp to motivate each other and to tell each other which goals we reached, this was really motivating and helped us to keep the spirit up’

‘The challenge made our team more interactive and engaged in what our before/after work activities. We pushed each other to do more’

‘We often feel a bit forgotten about when there are wider activities going on, but this was something we could get involved with and feel included with everyone else’

People did more exercise & kept going – the core objective of the challenge was to encourage people to move more, and the combination of team support and visibility of activities meant that employees pushed themselves further, walking more, running more, cycling more. 66% of participants claimed that the challenge encouraged them to do more, and 97% completed the challenge.
‘The challenge helped us to see how much we were doing and how little we exercise at work (in terms of steps). I also think when we started we did it for ourselves, but in the end, every team member did their best’

‘I ran 3 times in one week and I have never done that in my life before and the best part was that I enjoyed it. Most of us got our partners involved to support us to be more active at home and it was great to bring that excitement and motivation home with us’

‘It encouraged us to go for lunch time walks and encourage others to achieve goals such as running milestones. Without this encouragement, I would have stopped running after the first week’

Movement led to other sustainable healthy habits and outcomes: better eating, sleeping better which resulted in more energy and more productivity. 37% felt more energised. 17% claimed to have slept better, 17% felt more productive at work and 13% claimed to eat more healthily.
‘I’ve increased my cardio activity and feel that I sleep better and I’ve learned the best times to sleep and how much I need to be able to be productive’

‘I walk more stairs instead of taking the elevator, I’m motivated to work out at least 3 days per week whereas I used to find it hard to go 2 times.’

‘I’ve joined a gym and got a personal trainer. I have bought a bike and taken up cycling for the first time since childhood! I have also spent some time looking at my diet as well, because it is so important to have enough energy.’

‘Before the 30 day challenge, I was not very healthy at all. The 30 Day challenge encouraged me to purchase a step/sleep tracker so that I could monitor my activities. I can see such a transformation from then until now.’

The changes and results experienced by one person impacted others which created momentum, interest and excitement throughout RBI’s offices.
‘It has not only encouraged me to be fitter/healthier, but also my partner, he has also now purchased a tracker and we have started going on long walks to get our steps in and we are both developing much better sleeping patterns, which is something I have never had’

‘It got me and my three kids out exercising as a group together BUT I was always motivated and encouraged by the ongoing activities of my teammates’

‘By Living Well together and focusing our energies on our collective wellness, we transformed ourselves, our team and perhaps even our colleagues who witnessed our ‘joie de vivre’

Creativity – people started to incorporate more movement into their working days: taking the stairs rather than the lift, walking over to talk to colleagues rather than email, doing walk and talk one-to-one meetings, rather than sitting around a table. They saw that the small steps here and there, all add up and have a big impact
‘My manager was in my team and we started having our one to ones outside when talking to be more active which was great’

‘The month has made me think more about how I can be more active rather than sit at my desk – from walking meetings through to taking up swimming again – it’s been a real positive for me’

Measurement – led to awareness of where people were and what was possible
‘This challenge has made us realise how little we moved before and how far we can push ourselves, I never thought i would be running 10km at the start of the challenge’

‘This challenge really motivated us to go that ‘extra mile’! Every single one of us pushed ourselves and each other to work out more. The team spirit was high and when we saw that our hard work payed off (4th in the leaderboard), it only motivated more’

Experiment – the challenge encouraged people to try new things, many realising that they actually enjoyed exercise more than they thought, experiencing real transformation by the end and commitment to continue (70% of attendees said they were committed to continue their new healthy habits)
‘I never did any exercise prior to this. Being part of a team really encouraged me to do my best for everyone else. As someone not interested in exercise I have really enjoyed doing more for my team’

‘I am now aware of how much exercise I am capable of doing, and should be doing on any given day, and how much more i could do to challenge myself in the future’

Whilst on its own, the 30 day challenge isn’t going to change the whole business culture, however it’s an important step, and a useful tactic in a journey of change and transformation, promoting healthy individual habits, whilst bringing people together.