Trash can basketball, desk-chair soccer, synchronized stapling, water cooler weightlifting . . . With Summer Olympic season upon us, a little friendly competition in the workplace can be healthy, especially when it comes to wellness activities. While Office Olympics might not be the best (or safest!) option for your workplace, going for the gold with a culture of competition is on the rise for organizations.

According to the International Foundation’s 2016 survey report, A Closer Look: Workplace Wellness Outcomes, almost 30% of organizations offer fitness programs and competitions (like office Olympics or weight-loss challenges). Just like cooperative competition can work positively for accomplishing traditional workplace projects and goals, so can wellness-related competition. Take something as simple as walking, for example.

walking 2
International Foundation staff enjoy the fresh air, social time and scenery as they walk at our headquarters in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

In the Foundation’s Employee Benefits Survey 2016, we learned that 43% of employers in the U.S. offer walking programs. International Foundation staff have enjoyed a formalized walking program for over 20 years, with participation rates as high as 70%. Having a beautiful campus to explore is motivational, but participation seems to decrease once that brutal Wisconsin winter hits.

As fitness trackers and other wearable devices continue to grow in popularity, a natural sense of workplace competition has emerged. Co-workers can connect through their fitness trackers, challenging themselves and each other to various competitions throughout the week. Willis Towers Watson’s most recent Global Benefit Attitudes Survey revealed that 54% of employees in the U.S. and 51% of employees in Canada use wearable devices to monitor fitness activity. The Wall Street Journal reported that people are going as far as attaching their activity trackers to hamster wheels, power tools, ceiling fans and even their pet dogs to drive up their step count and win office fitness competitions.

[Related: Wearable Fitness Devices and Your Wellness Program | Benefit Bits Video]

Organizations can decide for themselves if encouraging wellness competitions and providing fitness trackers is a good fit—Like any emerging trend, there are pros and cons. One thing everyone can agree on is that this rolling chair rowing team has a good chance of bringing home the gold medal this year.

Anne Killian
Communications Associate at the International Foundation


Anne Patterson

Communications Associate at the International Foundation

Favorite Foundation service/product: The innovative member survey efforts and results from the research team.

Benefits-related topics that interest her most: Health care, nontraditional wellness initiatives, employee benefit communication.

Personal Insight: It’s all about balance with Anne. She loves to run and enjoys a good culinary adventure. She’ll jump at the chance to travel or to spend fun times with family and friends, but she’ll also take time to catch her breath with an occasional Netflix binge or diving into a classic novel.

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