5 Tips for Starting an Employee Fitness Program

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on February 1, 2013
iStock_000009109571XSmall-300x199.jpg

With the changes in the Affordable Care Act, employers are focusing increasingly on wellness and prevention in the workplace, according to HealthCare.gov.

Regardless of whether you offer health insurance to your employees, you can support wellness in the workplace by offering fitness-oriented programs and activities that can also benefit your small business through enhanced employee engagement and team building.

Here are five ways to start an employee fitness program at your office.

1. Create a challenge board. Bob Choat, author of Mind Your Own Fitness suggests starting a challenge board that prompts all employees to complete daily physical activities selected by each member of the team to mesh with their own passions. The challenges can be fairly simple (“Do 50 squats desk-side every hour for one day”) or relatively complex (“Run five laps around the park before our 5 p.m. meeting”). The board, which tracks everyone’s progress, keeps team members accountable and provides a venue for deepening interpersonal relationships. By asking employees to design their own challenges, which can can collaborative or individual, you’ll learn more about their interests and hobbies outside of work.

 2. Offer charitable incentives. Not all employees will be motivated to improve their health for personal gain, but you can develop a sense of shared purpose by choosing a local fitness-oriented charity event to become a part of. For example, you and your staff could raise funds and train for a 5K run, walk, or bike race together. Ask your employees what charities are near and dear to their hearts, and let them vote on which cause they’re most interested in supporting.

 3. Be active volunteers. Amanda Little, founder of HealthyHerLiving, suggests partnering with a local Boys & Girls Club to keep your team healthy, both physically and mentally. It’s also an opportunity for your small business to give back to the community.

Youth and after-school programs also often seek adults who are willing to coach soccer, basketball, baseball, and other games to help kids develop their teamwork and sportsmanship skills. In turn, your employees can benefit from being role models. Establish recurring volunteer opportunities, and let employees have flexible hours on those days, so they view the opportunity as a benefit rather than another time commitment.

 4. Leverage employee support. Research shows that people are more likely to reach their fitness goals when they share them with others for support. Symmetry Software CEO Tom Reahard bought the Fitbit Zip, a wireless health tracking device that costs about $60, for each of his 15 employees. The device tracks steps taken, meals eaten, calories burned, and hours slept — and transmits the data to an online portal that allows users to compare their activity with that of other users whom they’ve “friended” (similar to Facebook). The portal also provides a messaging feature that lets users cheer on one another.

Symmetry employee Elizabeth Oviedo says the device is far more than a fancy pedometer. “We have had so much fun as an office using the Fitbits,” she says, “talking about our rankings, and now, taking daily breaks to walk around our building to boost our daily steps.”

5. Hold one event per month. A key challenge with implementing any employee wellness activity is keeping interest alive once the newness has worn off. Jonathan Ages, CEO of Blood, Sweat & Cheers, has made it a priority to host a unique team-building event each month at his company. Past events include obstacle course-style fun runs, hard-core Tough Mudder challenges, and “sports bar Olympics.” In lieu of the boilerplate holiday party, BSC held a “Major League Dreidel” event that offered cornhole, shuffleboard, and dreidel games — and donated the registration fee proceeds to charity.

Ages says the events have fueled his company’s success. “Finding talented people has been the most difficult and important part of building a thriving business; fostering teamwork and high morale is crucial to keeping those talented people working hard.”

Advertisement