What images come to mind when you hear these words? Mindfulness, yoga, and therapy. Though you may have imagined someone in a park or yoga studio, the truth is that the boundaries between personal life and work are increasingly blurred. Coupled with ongoing human resources trends on retention, remote work, work-life balance, stress management, and corporate wellness programs, getting pampered at a spa or taking yoga classes during the workday is becoming more common.
Especially since the pandemic, employees want, and even expect, companies to prioritize well-being, and it can be challenging to engage your employees in your wellness initiatives. After all, their standards are high and you need fresh ideas to truly delight your staff. But before we dive into our ideas, let's first explain what workplace wellness is.
What is a Workplace Wellness Program?
Though the concept of wellness isn't new, the way we define wellness has dramatically shifted over time. While wellness was traditionally categorized as mental and physical health, wellness can encompass financial, social, emotional, physical, occupational, purpose, intellectual, environmental, and/or mental health. Since the interpretation of wellness can vary from individual to individual, there is no universal definition of workplace wellness programs. Any initiative to promote employee health at an organization can be considered part of a workplace wellness program.
What makes corporate wellness programs the most effective is when they are genuine, focus on different dimensions of wellness, and promote an overall culture of wellness and employee engagement (as opposed to simply focusing on traditional healthcare benefits). Though shifting company culture takes time and patience, the effort is well worth it. In fact, global mental health issues cost businesses $1 trillion due to lost productivity and contribute significantly to absenteeism.
Employee wellness is a serious issue, but that doesn't mean we can't have fun too! Read on for our round-up of fifteen fun wellness challenges that will inspire your remote, hybrid, and on-site employees alike!
1. Encourage physical activity through Step Challenges
Go beyond the standing desk with a step challenge. We love having a friendly competition at Cooleaf, especially when prizes are at stake - no gym membership needed! For this fitness challenge, team members set a daily step goal to earn daily reward points that can be redeemed for gift cards or other incentives. To raise the stakes even higher, the person with the highest number of steps gets a bonus award! Step progress can be tracked through the Cooleaf platform, and for easier tracking, Cooleaf syncs with wearable trackers and fitness apps like Fitbit, MisFit, HealthKit, and more. For additional team bonding and points, encourage participants to take and post a fitness selfie on the Cooleaf platform - healthy employee are happy employees!
2. Foster healthy eating habits through the Healthy Lunch Challenge
During periods of high stress, people tend to grab high carbs or sugary snacks from the break room, and with apps like Grubhub and Doordash, the temptation to eat out has never been higher. Encourage employees to cook healthy meals at home by having participants take a picture of their healthy lunch for 5 days. Employees can post photos through a platform like Cooleaf or on their MS Teams or Slack channel. Teams can share healthy recipes, healthy snack tips, or meal prep advice to inspire ideas and hold each other accountable. With points on the line, even the most skeptical employees will participate + you’ll promote a healthy lifestyle and healthy food in a fun way!
3. Build a culture of recognition through the Peer Gratitude Challenge
With this challenge, employees are encouraged to give recognitions through their recognition platform. It's a win-win: those that give recognitions earn points, while those that receive recognitions get points!
Whether you use a recognition platform like Cooleaf or not, building a culture of appreciation and gratitude is critical to employee engagement and wellness. A simple "thank you" can go a long way, but to truly personalize your gratitude, ask your teammates how they prefer to be recognized. Maybe they prefer receiving kudos for a job well done in a team meeting, a personal email, or stretch assignments to help them achieve their goals. The point is this: you won't know until you ask. Recognition doesn't have to cost anything but without it, it comes at a heavy cost: your employees' well-being.
4. Overcome Zoom fatigue with the Unplugged Challenge
Mindfulness and taking breaks throughout the workday is critical to engagement, productivity, and preventing burnout - especially for remote employees who can feel as if the lines between work and home are blurred. For this 5 day challenge, employees are encouraged to unplug from technology for at least 1 hour a day. Afterwards, post on Cooleaf or your team's communication channel about how they spent their time. Not only does this challenge increase empathy, self-determination, job satisfaction, workplace performance, intuition, social relationships, and flexibility, but you might learn a fun fact or two about your co-workers, reinforcing team building and a positive work environment!
5. Inspire intellectual curiosity with the TED Talk Challenge
Professional development is a major component of wellness. In fact, the "reality slump", or the term used to describe the time when employee engagement and satisfaction falls, happens just one or two years into the job! So how do you retain your people? Inspire intellectual curiosity and foster professional development as part of your culture.
The TED Talk Challenge is an easy way to spark discussions within your teams beyond the day-to-day scope of your work. Post a TED talk on topics like leadership, current events, financial education, innovation, or inspiration. Employees that participate in the discussion receive points. Make this an ongoing monthly challenge by having different staff post a video each month!
Though some of these challenges are just 5 days, we hope it encourages employees to adopt healthier habits and mindsets for the long-term. Try out multiple challenges to see which ones your employees enjoy the most. Then, rinse and repeat with incentives! Survey participants at the end of the challenges with quarterly wellness pulse surveys to gain insights into areas of improvement. This gives employees an opportunity to suggest their own wellness + and health program ideas, and hopefully, champion it themselves!
6. Help the planet with a Sustainability Challenge
Often, employee health and wellness programs or challenges focus on improving personal or organizational health. While this goal is undoubtedly worth pursuing, paying attention to each individual’s impact on the environment is also essential and should not be overlooked.
The simple wellness goals of sustainability are to create and maintain an environment where humans and nature can exist in productive harmony. In an effort to support individual health and long-term ecological balance, sustainability challenges provide participants with an opportunity to focus on their personal well-being by engaging in activity as well as the well-being of the planet by learning how to easily incorporate sustainable practices into their everyday lives.
7. Spread the love with a Charity Challenge
A Harvard Business School study found that empowering employees to support causes of their choice is more satisfying than receiving a bonus. Charitable giving has been scientifically proven to make people feel good.
Charity challenges can be designed to promote any aspect of wellness, such as physical, mental, or financial, using charitable giving as a reward. For example, employees can work to earn points by participating in the challenge, and the points are then translated into wellness incentives in dollar amounts that can they can donate to a charity of their choice.
Alternatively, organizations can choose one or more charities that align well with their visions and donate on behalf of the challenge winners.
8. Catch some ZZZs with a Sleep Challenge
Many corporate wellness challenges focus on physical health by promoting fitness challenges but neglect a critical component that fuels physical performance: sleep. Additionally, sleep plays a vital role in mental and emotional health, which makes it one of the most important wellness activities of one’s day.
Many chronic diseases have been linked to insufficient sleep, which leads to high healthcare costs for both the employee and the organization. Unfortunately, when work and life responsibilities mount, sleep quantity and quality are usually the first to take a hit, as evidenced by one in three U.S. adults not getting enough sleep.
This obstacle around sleep presents an opportunity for your worksite wellness program to support workers. Sleep challenges, as the name suggests, should focus on educating employees on the importance of a good night’s rest and ways to practice healthy sleep habits.
9. Community Service Activities
Doing good deeds and helping others usually makes people feel good and fulfilled. Employers can organize a day where teams can volunteer in the community, and employees can form fundraisers and groups for causes they feel passionate about, or offer time off to volunteer individually. Such programs also help facilitate closer relationships among employees which leads to increased employee engagement.
10. Tobacco Cessation
The negative health effects of smoking and second hand smoke are well established. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States each year.
The list of diseases associated with cigarette smoking is long and costly. Compared to nonsmokers, smokers cost more and consume more medical care. Insurance companies and employers now see the value of covering smoking cessation programs and medications in a wellness package for employees.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoking costs the nation $167 billion a year in healthcare costs and lost worker productivity. The CDC estimates each employee that smokes costs your company $3,391 per year—including $1,760 in lost productivity and $1,623 in excess medical expenses. Smoking cessation programs have shown both an immediate and a long-term return on investment.
11. Mental Health Education
Through mental health education, companies can teach employees at every level how to build the vocabulary that is necessary to seek and offer emotional support. Investing in these kinds of initiatives through seminars, workshops, and ongoing education also shows an organization's collective willingness to change and grow to better support employees’ needs.
“Leaders can say that they value mental health because maybe they really do want to value it,” said Dr. Monica Worline, a research scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. “But they often don’t know what to do other than saying that, so it can seem like they’re just giving it lip service.”
“Talking the talk” without “walking the walk” is a likely byproduct of ignorance, even for those with the best intentions. Ignorance not only perpetuates a broader societal stigma about mental health, it also creates a culture in which leaders and employees feel ill-equipped to support, and even identify, emotional distress.
12. Flexible Workplace Policies
Structurally, flexible policies and benefits can give employees the freedom to make independent choices that foster their mental health. In their research, Dr. Worline and her colleague, Dr. Jane Dutton, professor of business and psychology at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, have found that employees’ performance and well-being thrive in environments with flexibility around where and when work can happen. “These environments allow employees to adapt to their circumstances — whether around mental health or any other challenges happening in their lives,” Dr. Dutton told me.
While allocated sick days and bereavement policies are common, most workplaces don’t make it easy for employees to access paid (and even unpaid) leave. “Accessibility is really important because it gives people the room they need to manage significant mental health challenges,” said Dr. Worline. To make sure all employees are aware of their benefits, managers and HR professionals need to prioritize making these policies visible and clear. Beyond this, organizations can show their support by sharing stories about those who use them. According to Dr. Dutton, doing so lets others know it’s safe to do the same.
13. Transit Incentives
Encouraging alternative methods of transportation, including transit, ride-sharing, and cycling has positive impacts both on employee health and the future of the environment.
One example is Facebook’s bike-sharing program, which is available on its Palo Alto campus. Since the campus is so expansive, the company encourages employees to cycle from one building to another instead of driving.
If you don’t have a large campus, consider offering reimbursements for employees who take transit or carpool.
14. It’s Nap Time!
In a survey of 2,000 employees working from home conducted by career and jobs website Zippia in late April last year, 33% said they took naps.
Whether this sounds professional or not, studies have shown many benefits to napping and companies like Asana, Facebook, and Zappos have all jumped on the trend of providing “nap rooms” so employees during work hours can catch a little shut-eye when they feel like they’ve hit a wall.
Thanks to flexible work schedules, employees can grab a short nap and return to work feeling refreshed and energetic instead of trying to push through (often with less-than-stellar output).
15. Financial Counseling
According to PwC’s 2022 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, the fact that everything costs more these days is a top concern for 20% of respondents. In addition to negatively impacting some employees’ focus and attendance at work, the survey found that money concerns are also chipping away at employees’ sleep, self-esteem and relationships at home.
What’s more, they’re reluctant to ask for help with financial issues. In PwC’s study, 41% of financially stressed employees said they were embarrassed to ask for help with their finances.
At the same time, employers are becoming increasingly aware of how personal financial difficulty is affecting productivity at work, and ultimately, the company’s bottom line. Some of the most common symptoms of financial stress include loss of sleep, poor concentration, and reduced motivation, all of which have a significant impact on an employee’s standard of work.
Offering financial advice and counseling to employees is a health benefit that can have a positive impact on their well-being and their ability to focus more in the workplace.
Employee wellness programs help cultivate a supportive and healthy environment with healthy behaviors where employees can thrive. Employee wellbeing has a critical impact on numerous areas of business performance and among other things increases employee performance, satisfaction, morale, and collaboration.
Over time, wellness programs in the workspace have evolved, and the more successful ones go the extra mile, are just as important as benefits and perks, and are embedded in the company culture. This is partly because today’s employees are unwilling to stay at a workplace that is damaging to their mental and physical health.
Instead, employees expect a work culture that prioritizes employee health. That’s why businesses that make employee wellbeing programs a priority can look forward to long-term success.
If you're looking for other employee wellbeing solutions, from wellness activities to incentives, let us know! We'd love to hear from you.