Fit Feb - Lessons from a Workplace Health and Fitness Challenge
Last month, the BIU designed and ran a workplace health and fitness challenge at the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
Using a points-based rewards system, Fit Feb incorporated different behavioural elements to encourage improvements in health and wellbeing and increase links across the Group. To design the challenge we drew on the EAST framework by making it:
If you have ever gone on a 'health kick' or tried to lose weight, you will know that it can be hard work. It takes effort to build exercise in to a busy schedule or to take the time and effort to prepare healthy meals, and often the end goal of increased fitness or weight loss can appear too great to overcome.
'Chunking'helps break down overarching goals, like losing weight or becoming healthier, into a number of more manageable bite-sized pieces. Fit Feb attempted to do this through the points system, which rewarded a range of different types of key behaviours, rather than just physical activity for example.
Points could be earned for exercise, healthy eating and alcohol-free days, and for activities that encouraged team bonding and broader wellbeing (such as group exercise and getting away from your desk for lunch. You can view the points system* below for more info).
You certainly didn't have to be an Olympian to earn these points, and by encouraging and regularly rewarding a variety of incremental changes it served to keep a diverse range of people engaged and help create more sustainable changes. To provide a personal example, while I might not have been competitively clocking up points for exercise every day of the week, I knew that I could easily tweak some habits to gain a regular swathe of points, such as by committing to eat my 5/2 of fruit and veg a day, avoiding alcohol and getting out of my seat in the office to stretch throughout the day.
We debated long and hard about how best to incentivise/reward positive behaviours, such as healthy eating. In the end we chose to aim to keep things as simple as possible, avoiding any negative reporting (i.e. losing points for eating 'junk food'), and any calculations of caloric intake or portion sizes, both of which can be confusing for people to quantify and measure (and would have been an administrative nightmare!) Instead, we opted to use popular 'heuristics' or rules of thumb e.g. 5/2 -five serves of vegetables and 2 pieces of fruit per day.
While we used a relatively straightforward way to track points, there is a growing trend towards the use of apps and devices (think fitbits) to easily measure different behaviours as part of the 'quantified self' movement, with individuals able to monitor many aspects of their behaviour. If you're thinking of doing something similar to Fit Feb, there are a range of apps that can help you log your exercise, track your sleep or count your calories.
Incentives and rewards were absolutely central to Fit Feb, and we included both rankings and prizes throughout the challenge. The leader boards were designed to appeal to the 'ego' of participants and our desire for a positive self-image, which leads to a tendency to compare ourselves against others and 'self-evaluate'.
As well as a prize for the overall individual winner and team, each week the winning team was awarded with a delicious fresh fruit box, which further promoted the visibility of the healthy eating message. These prizes were provided by our Executives as we sought to draw on the 'messenger' effect by highlighting that there was senior endorsement for Fit Feb.
The Department Secretary also joined us for our final 'Wildcard Wednesday', a fancy dress walk across the Harbour Bridge. 'Wildcard Wednesdays' were included in an attempt to keep people engaged by making the challenge fun (for some famous examples of 'fun theory' see Volkswagon's piano stairs, the world's deepest bin and the speeding fine lottery).
Other wildcard challenges included scavenger hunts, pop-up salad bars and 'selfies' at famous landmarks around the city. These challenges provided big bonus points, which could drastically alter the leader board and therefore incentivise even those with low scores to join in.
Interestingly, each week a different team won the weekly prize, which indicates that having regular prizes and bonus points successfully kept teams engaged as the prospect of victory remained possible throughout the challenge.
The vast majority of colleagues in our group took part in Fit Feb and it included many socially reinforcing elements. We explicitly included team points and prizes, since we know from the behavioural research that these can be powerful as people feel particularly motivated not to let their team down.
We attempted to build and drawn on the social norms around participating in Fit Feb by sending out weekly updates with the leader board, in order to keep Fit Feb top of mind and highlight the number of people participating. We also provided points for office stretches, which was intended to be a fun activity, but importantly since many teams did their stretches together it was also highly visible, helping to reinforce the norm of participation. There were also bonus points for team's that organised group activities, such as jogging, walking and even dodgeball!
Finally, through the '#Helfies' competition we asked people to post their 'health selfies' (photos of healthy meals, group and individual activities) to the dedicated Hub webpage. This helped to personalise the challenge and again create momentum as participants could see what healthy activities their colleagues were up to.
While you're probably sick of monthly fads –Fit Feb, Dry July, Stoptober, Movember – there is a lot of merit in making things both timely and time bound. For example, February is a good time in Sydney for fitness and health challenges as the weather is good for getting outdoors and people are back in their routines after Christmas and keen to turn New Year's Resolutions in to habits.
While it takes varying lengths of time to form new habits, keeping Fit Feb confined to one month made goals achievable yet sustained enough to help in habit formation.
For this reason, we are also pushing 'Maintain-It-March' and are asking colleagues to make a specific public commitment to take one behaviour you regularly performed in Fit Feb through March and beyond, to help embed a lifestyle change you can sustain. This is an example of a 'commitment device', which we know can increase the likelihood of following through on these intended actions. And for those that really want to maximise their chance of success, it has been shown that commitments usually become more effective as the costs for failure increase – for example by
imposing penalties on yourselves for failing to meet these commitments (for interesting examples of this, go to www.stickk.com )
On top of Maintain-It-March, we are collecting feedback on Fit Feb, so please do send in your thoughts. Who knows we may even take it Department wide next year, so your thoughts on how to improve it are really valuable.
It is worth noting that challenges like Fit Feb won't work for everyone. Like many 'nudges', it won't change the behaviour of those who do not want or are not able to engage, and arguably the winners and those at the top of the leader board are likely to be those who are into fitness challenges the year round.
However, where Fit Feb may have had the most valuable impact is with the group of people who want to make healthy lifestyle changes, but may not have quite got around to it just yet. Anecdotally we've heard that Fit Feb has helped to reduce some of our more negative workplace behaviours like regularly eating lunch and sitting at our desks all day. Indeed, our favourite Fit Feb stories were not the hours of gruelling exercise, but more modest lifestyle changes such as walking into work, not drinking a wine with dinner and getting up to stretch in the office. That is the type of watercooler moment we want to see more of in 'Maintain-it-March' …
*Fit Feb points could be earned in the following ways:
- Exercise points - For ½ an hour of exercise you receive 2 points, for every ½ hour after that you earn 1 point
- Healthy eating points - If you eat your 5/2 a day (five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit) you earn 1 point
- Dry days (no alcohol) - you earn 1 point
- Building group cohesion - If you exercise with someone outside your branch you earn 1 point, if you organise a group activity you earn 3 points
- Wellbeing points - If you spend 30 minutes outside of the office during the day you earn 1 point
- Office stretching points - If you complete 3 x 20 repetitions of workplace stretches throughout the day you earn 2 points