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Revealed: How to super-charge a workplace health challenge with four simple hacks

StepJockey launched its first workplace stair climbing challenge in November 2014, and since then we’ve been running successful stair climbing challenges all over the world, clocking up over 61 million steps.

Nearly all our Challenges have attracted strong participation and this is largely because StepJockey is such a visible wellness intervention. We believe that if you want to impact the majority of people in an organisation (not just the healthy-minded minority) then you need to be visible to all - in our case, on the walls; part of the physical fabric of a building.

But what makes the difference between a challenge that engages 10% of an organisation's  people and one that attracts 30% or more? We’ve been trawling our data and the broader peer-reviewed evidence and think these four simple hacks can make all the difference.

1/ Leadership counts

Lead, and they will follow. It sounds obvious, glib even, but leadership participation makes an incredible difference. Both NICE in the UK and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US stress the importance of leadership involvement in workplace wellness programmes and we find that companies which get their senior management involved also run the most successful and popular stair climbing challenges. Three directors from property giant Jones Lang LaSalle each set up teams in different offices across the UK during one recent challenge, and completed one of our most successful and fast paced challenges to date, collectively burning over 80,500 calories in just 4 weeks. Why does leadership involvement make such a difference? We suspect there are three key reasons: it signals permission to participate; it generates strong attention; and it gently establishes a level of expectation within an organisation. In simple terms, by ‘walking the walk’, leaders point the way for others.

2/ Prizes motivate

Gentle competition is a great motivator in of itself but prizes have a big impact on participation. It’s partly because, as every behavioural science student knows, incentives work and also, we suspect, because prizes demonstrate a level of corporate goodwill and commitment. But prizes don’t have to be material or even directly benefit participants. Charitable donations can work, as can simple name checks and recognition. It’s also important to design prizes well so they are not confined to rewarding the highest ranking teams and individuals. We suggest rewarding collective performance in addition to offering team and individual prizes across a range of categories from ‘most improved’ to ‘best stair buddy’. What’s the difference between a corporate challenge with prizes and one without? In our original trials, the incentivised cohort increased its stair use 800% compared to 500% in the non-incentivised group. And we see that pattern repeated in almost every challenge we run. In London City Hall’s Everest Challenge, for example, teams were offered shopping vouchers as prizes, and they went on to complete their challenge in just one week, collectively burning over 50,000 calories every single day. We had to more than double the collective target to extend it to run for a month.

3/ Communication counts (big time!)

Perhaps our greatest learning has been the vital role of internal communications teams in maximising involvement with StepJockey stair climbing challenges. Again, it’s obvious but unless an organisation can efficiently let its people know about a new initiative few are likely to learn about it and participate. On the other hand internal communications professionals are busy people and can’t be expected to swing into action at a moments notice or without the necessary content to disseminate. That’s why at StepJockey we engage with internal communications teams from the very start of the process. They should be sitting alongside the HR and wellness experts from the outset and on an equal footing. It’s also why we have created a comprehensive online Communications Toolkit containing everything a comms professional needs for a successful launch. From bespoke printable posters and leaflets to ready-to-use email, intranet and internal social media content (including images!), it’s all there ready to go within minutes.

4/ Champions seed and magnify

It’s well documented that wellness champions are an essential ingredient in successful workplace wellness initiatives and for early seeding of stair climbing challenges we find they are worth their weight in gold. So what makes the ideal wellness champion and how do you find them? There are no hard and fast rules but in organisations without champions we start our search in two key places - the gym and down in the basement at the bike racks. We are not looking for elite athletes but ordinary people who have, through small steps, managed to build physical activity into their lives; people who understand how difficult it can be to break a sedentary habit and who are keen to encourage and help others. Recruit just 20 champions to start a team of five or six and almost any challenge will get off to a flying start. But remember, your champions have got to recruit non-champions to their teams and not each other!

Want to know more about the benefits that a StepJockey stair climbing challenge will bring to your business, including an estimate for employee time, energy and carbon savings? Then please don’t hesitate to get in touch by contacting us today at: