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21 workplace wellness challenges that don’t focus on weight loss

a woman with curly green hair knows that staying hydrated is one of the ways to tackle wellness challenges

How can you promote overall wellness on your team without making it feel forced?

Workplace wellness challenges can be a great addition to your employee wellness program because they encourage healthy competition as teammates work on building healthy habits together.

Table of contents
What are wellness challenges?
Wellness challenge do’s and don’ts
What are some wellness challenges that employees will enjoy?
Wellness challenges can help promote a healthy lifestyle

What are wellness challenges?

Wellness challenges complement employee wellness programs by providing a fun, one-off initiative to focus on a specific aspect of health.

Where wellness programs are ongoing, wellness challenges happen during a short duration, such as one week or 30 days.

Wellness challenges add a bit of novelty and create a sense of camaraderie among those who participate in them. They’re beneficial to employees because these initiatives promote a more active lifestyle, better mental health and improved overall wellbeing.

They’re helpful for employers, too, because they decrease the number of days your employees need to call out sick and help lower the overall cost of healthcare.

Wellness challenge do’s and don’ts

DO make participation optional

Mandatory wellness challenges could get you into legal hot water, and it’s not fair to employees who, for whatever reason, don’t want to or are unable to participate.

By emphasizing that participation is optional, your wellness challenge will be seen as a fun, motivating event-not a forced obligation.

DON’T focus on weight loss or appearances

Everyone has different health goals, and it’s impossible to know someone’s true health just by looking at them.

Don’t focus your wellness challenges on losing weight, decreasing waist size or looking a certain way.

This can be very demotivating for some members of your team, so steer clear of anything like a weight loss challenge or one that rewards a decrease in waist or clothing size.

DO focus on meaningful outcomes

Instead of focusing on physical appearance, focus on meaningful outcomes that everyone can agree are good: Increased physical activity, a boost in gratitude, more service hours, and incorporating more fresh produce into one’s diet are all healthy outcomes to center.

DON’T reward with cash

Cash incentives, while certainly motivating, can create unhealthy competition.

DO get creative with rewards

Instead of cash as a reward for your wellness challenge, think of other rewards that might tie into a health goal.

For example, maybe you reward someone with a nutritious catered lunch filled with lots of fresh vegetables. Or, you could give a gift card to a sporting goods store or gift a Fitbit, for example.

What are some wellness challenges that employees will enjoy?

1. Wellness coaching

Suggested length or frequency: 9 weeks

What you'll need: A computer and F4S (it’s free!)

Get a group together and enroll in wellness coaching, where you’ll get professional guidance on setting health goals and built-in accountability.

F4S offers free online coaching, so your team can complete it from anywhere and at their own pace.

What’s more, it’s led by our AI-powered Coach Marlee; she’s trained to use evidence-based methods to help you define your goals and create a strategy to reach them. You can even track your progress right within the app!

In the 9-week Vital Wellbeing program, your team will improve their emotional resilience, boost their satisfaction and learn how to set boundaries-all in just two five-to-15-minute sessions per week.

The best part? It's so effective, that over 90% of users achieve their wellbeing goings within 4-9 weeks.

2. Sleep scores

Suggested length or frequency: 30 days

What you’ll need: SleepScore app (it’s free and available on Android and iOS)

Sleep is crucial to performing our best at work, and yet, according to the CDC, more than one-third of Americans are sleep deprived. To encourage healthy sleep habits in your workplace, challenge employees to improve their sleep scores, which you can measure through a free smartphone app called SleepScore. You can even turn it into a friendly competition to see who, by the end of 30 days, had the highest average sleep score.

3. Steps Challenge

Suggested length or frequency: One week

What you’ll need: Pedometer or smartphone with app that tracks steps

In this classic wellness challenge, employees compete with each other to see who can walk the most steps by the end of a set period, with the person accumulating the most steps being crowned the winner.

Alternatively, you can turn this into a monthly challenge where you set a daily goal, such as 10,000 steps, that every participant tries to hit. Walking challenges encourage higher daily activity levels and offer a low barrier to entry for most people.

4. Phone fasting

Suggested length or frequency: 24 hours

What you’ll need: No extra equipment needed

For this wellness initiative, ask participants to fast from their phones for 24 hours. That means they put the phones away while they’re working and sleeping, and aim to spend no more than one hour on their smartphone per day. See how their productivity and focus improve during those 24 hours.

5. No-spend week

Suggested length or frequency: One week

What you’ll need: No equipment needed

Here’s a challenge that focuses on financial wellness, which influences mental health! For a no-spend week, you’ll need to set the ground rules, which usually look something like this:

  • For seven days, you spend no money except on essential items.
  • Essential items include food and medication.
  • If you want, participants can plan ahead and pre-purchase the essential items (like food) that they’ll need during the no-spend week.

So what’s the purpose of fasting from spending for a week? Overspending can stem from a lack of self-control. By practicing not buying anything for a week, employees can practice greater self-control, making the next buying decision a better one.

6. Gratitude journaling

Suggested length or frequency: Two weeks

What you’ll need: Pen and paper or smartphone/laptop & free F4S account.

Practicing gratitude has all sorts of health benefits, from decreased stress to greater happiness levels. One way researchers have recommended to increase gratitude is through journaling.

Here are two practices that your employees can try for two weeks:

  • Three Good Things: This one’s simple: At the end of each day, the participant writes down three positive things that happened that they’re thankful for.
  • Gratitude Journaling: This practice takes it one step further: After each good thing, the participant writes down why it happened. This gives the writer a greater sense of agency, helping them realize that their actions helped lead to that good thing happening.

The Fingerprint for Success app has a multi-media journal feature that's completely free and fun to use!

7. Random Acts of Kindness Challenge

Suggested length or frequency: One week

What you’ll need: No equipment needed

Nothing brings about a boost of good feelings like doing something nice for someone else.

Being considerate really pays off when it comes to overall health: Research has found that helping others can decrease stress, and doing random acts of kindness for seven days boosts happiness.

8. Zero added sugar challenge

Suggested length or frequency: One week

What you’ll need: No equipment needed

Added sugar isn’t good for our health. For example, a 15-year study found that people who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar were 38% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who kept it at 8% calories from added sugar.

Of course, sugar comes naturally in fruits and vegetables-so not all sugar is bad. Encourage healthy eating by challenging your team to cut out added sugars-those sugars found in processed foods, sodas, candy and the like.

9. Mid-day stretch breaks

Suggested length or frequency: 30 days

What you’ll need: A stretch break leader or short YouTube video of stretches

Sitting for so long at a computer can lead to aches and pain in your neck and shoulders. Nip it in the bud with daily stretch breaks for 30 days. You might even decide to keep this as a daily activity; just be sure to switch up the kind of stretch routines you do so it doesn't get boring.

These can be short, anywhere from two to five minutes, just to get the bottom loosened up and in motion for a few minutes. You can designate a stretch break leader, or you can search YouTube for a stretch break video and share the link with your team. I particularly like the no-equipment arm exercises on the PopSugar YouTube channel.

10. Pushup challenge

Suggested length or frequency: 30 days

What you’ll need: No equipment needed

How’s this for a fitness challenge? Have your team do a 30-day pushup challenge to encourage employee wellness. They can either start with a small amount (say, five pushups) and build up to a large amount by day 30 (say, 50 pushups), or they can all commit to doing as many pushups as possible in a set amount of time (such as two minutes).

Not only will this give them a good break during a day full of sitting, but it also will help form camaraderie as you’ll all be working toward a common goal.

11. Eat more vegetables

Suggested length or frequency: One week

What you’ll need: Extra fruits and veggies

Current USDA guidelines recommend two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables every day for people who need 2,000 calories a day. But, according to USDA surveys, the average American eats only .9 cups of fruit and 1.4 cups of vegetables each day.

Help your team make healthy choices by challenging them to incorporate more vegetables into their meals. If you can, keep bowls of fruits and veggies out in the office kitchen to make it easy to grab a healthy snack.

12. Volunteering

Suggested length or frequency: Once a month for three hours

What you’ll need: No equipment needed

Volunteering can help your employees bond while giving back to the community, providing them with a sense of purpose.

Designate a volunteer day once a month or once a quarter. You can even have participants vote on which organization they’d like to work with or what kind of project they’d like to work on.

13. Bring Your Lunch to Work

Suggested length or frequency: Once a month

What you’ll need: Homemade meals

Challenge employees to prepare lunch at home and bring it to work.

Home-cooked meals are more likely to be made from fresh ingredients and contain less sodium, making them more likely to be nutritious. Plus, they’re better for your wallet, too, since they cost less than restaurants.

You can even have an agreement where one person in the challenge cooks lunch for everyone, and you rotate people each day. That way, you’ll save time, too!

14. Dental cleaning

Suggested length or frequency: Every six months

What you’ll need: Dental visit

Dentists typically recommend you come in for a cleaning every six months. And yet, even before the pandemic, a third of American adults under 65 hadn't gotten a cleaning in the past year, according to a report by the CDC.

To encourage dental health, challenge your team to go in for a cleaning. As a reward, you could give participants a powered toothbrush. A scientific review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that powered toothbrushes are better than manual ones at reducing plaque and gingivitis in the short- and long-term.

What a great way to encourage ongoing dental health, long after the challenge is over!

15. Spend more time in nature

Suggested length or frequency: 30 minutes once a month

What you’ll need: Walking shoes

Nature walks have proven health benefits. A study published in the April 2019 Frontiers in Psychology found that spending 20 to 30 minutes in nature decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Once a month, challenge your team to get together for half an hour outdoors, either just to hold a meeting outside, have a picnic, or go exploring. What a great way to incorporate physical activity during the day! Being among greenery, breathing fresh air, and maybe even seeing wildlife can decrease stress levels and energize your employees.

16. Connect with a team member you haven’t met before

Suggested length or frequency: Once a month

What you’ll need: An app that encourages connecting with new people, such as the Donut Slack app

Having work friends is good for individuals and your company’s bottom line. Gallup found that having a best friend at work boosts employee engagement and productivity. But people tend to form their own silos at work, and it’s your job as a leader to encourage more inclusivity.

If you use Slack, you can install an app like Donut to randomly pair coworkers. After that, challenge them to schedule a virtual coffee chat or grab lunch together.

17. No negative self talk

Suggested length or frequency: One week

What you’ll need: No equipment needed

Negative self-talk is a symptom of a defeatist attitude. We all do it, but it can actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy: The more you tell yourself you can’t do something, the less likely you are to do it. This can be horrible for mental health.

To boost emotional wellbeing, challenge your team to refrain from negative self-talk for one week and then journal about how it feels. Instead of simply stopping negative self-talk, encourage them to replace the inner critic with positive self-talk.

Have everyone begin by spending 24 hours writing down every negative thing they tell themselves. Then, have them write a positive thought that challenges the negative one. Next, for six more days, encourage them to replace negative self-talk with positive statements. At the end of it, ask people to share what they’ve learned (if they’d like to).

As a reward, you could give them gift certificates to a spa for a self-care day.

18. Social media fast

Suggested length or frequency: 48 hours

What you’ll need: No equipment needed

Ostensibly, social media is intended to help us feel more connected. But often, seeing other people’s highlight reels makes us feel lonelier and bad about ourselves.

Spending too much time on social media can negatively affect our mental health, so for this challenge, encourage your employees to fast from social media for 48 hours. It might help if they deactivate their accounts or at least turn off notifications so they’re not tempted to check.

19. Gratitude jar

Suggested length or frequency: Every day for two weeks

What you’ll need: A mason jar, pieces of paper, pens

2019 research by Lewina O. Lee and colleagues found that optimists (those who expect good things to happen) tend to live 11-15% longer and are more likely to live beyond age 85. So learning how to highlight the positive things can be good for your team’s overall health.

Unlike gratitude journaling, the gratitude jar is far more communal. Keep a mason jar in a shared area, such as the lunchroom, and keep a pen and pieces of paper near it.

Allow anyone to write something or someone they’re grateful for at work, leave their name on it and drop it in the jar. Every day at lunch, pull one thing from the jar and read it aloud, and then give the person who wrote it a free lunch.

If your team is remote, you can still do this! Just designate one person as the jar keeper and allow people to privately message the jar keeper with their gratitude notes. The jar keeper can then either write them down and physically keep a jar, or they can have a virtual jar and use an online randomizer to pick a person every day at lunchtime.

Cultivating gratitude in this way is a great way to show you care about employee health.

20. Try a new hobby

Suggested length or frequency: Two hours once a month

What you’ll need: No equipment needed

The benefits of leisure are plenty, including better mood, lower heart rate and decreased stress, according to the findings of a study by Matthew Zawadzki and colleagues and published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine. And yet, in this busy world, many of us struggle to find time for hobbies.

For this challenge, encourage participants to find one new hobby and spend at least two hours on it. This could be a painting class, roller skating at a park or joining a bowling league.

21. Grow a meal

Suggested length or frequency: 7-10 days

What you’ll need: A microgreens kit: seeds, container, and seed mat

Growing a plant can give one a sense of accomplishment, being surrounded by greenery can boost mood and being able to eat what one grows is nutritious and exciting.

Order participants a microgreens kit from a site like Hamama. Alternatively, you can purchase the supplies needed, which include seeds, a container for growing (like a glass baking dish) and a growing mat.

Create a Slack channel where everyone can share photos of the growth progress. Then, have everyone share photos of what they make after they harvest their microgreens! This is a fun way to promote healthy eating, let others spend more time with nature and encourage making homemade meals.

Wellness challenges can help promote a healthy lifestyle

From corporate wellness programs to health insurance benefits-there are many ways to support your team's wellness journey, and wellness challenges infuse fun into it!

Create a calendar and schedule the different wellness challenges on this list. Then, present it to your team and let them sign up for the ones that interest them most.

To get started with wellness challenges, have your team join the Vital Wellbeing program for AI-powered coaching at their own pace.

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