employee wellbeing and healthy lifestyle choices

Office weight loss contests are rotten for employee wellbeing

Being overweight is linked to reduced productivity, increased absences through illness, and even reduced position tenure, so a weight-loss contest might sound like the perfect low-budget idea for getting your employees to take better care of themselves and improving employee wellbeing.

The idea is simple, the employee who loses the most weight in a set period is the winner. Theoretically, staff are engaged in a good-natured competition for a shared cause, there’s a motivating reward at stake, and your business gets a healthier, happier workforce.

Here’s the problem; it’s not responsible to incentivise your staff to make big changes to their body like losing weight.

Health is more than the absence of mass

There’s little reason to think your staff will be healthier in the long term just because they embrace a period of extreme calorie restriction. This kind of temporary diet adjustment doesn’t tend to produce much in the way of long term results, and once it’s over it’s likely all the weight comes back on, and more.

Competition can also bring out some very ugly behaviour in people, and there are always going to be employees at a healthy weight willing to deprive themselves of precious nutrition just to win something, even a nominal non-cash reward. It’s not in the spirit of what you’re trying to achieve, and isn’t good for employee health.

Feel better instead of weighing less

For a sustained benefit to your business, you want to have a workforce with more people who are genuinely healthier and as a result more productive, happy and present, not just a room full of people who briefly weighed less than usual.

This means instead of focusing on extreme dieting, focus on encouraging behaviours which will lead to long term health benefits. Encourage department-level champions to organise competitions to avoid the feeling that the company is the health police, and let your staff choose the activity they’ll enjoy.

Getting activity right

Everyone’s fitness level is different, which is another reason staff should organise competitions themselves. They might want to compete over who can log the most metres climbed cycling on the mobile app Strava, the best improvement in percentage of their body’s muscle mass, cumulative minutes spent jogging or walking, or amount of yoga classes attended.

The idea is to create involvement with physical activity that will last beyond a short contest by giving staff a reason to try new activities, or get more engaged with their physical health with something they’ll enjoy and want to keep doing after the winner has picked up their vouchers.

Keep contests relatively short, no more than two months, to make sure the reward doesn’t seem too far off and the novelty of taking part doesn’t wear off and become a slog.

As with any activity based employee wellbeing scheme, an extra-curricular focus like time spent exercising is going to be skewed to benefit staff who have time to dedicate to exercise outside work. Expect to hear complaints on this front, and consider making the working day a bit more flexible to accommodate them.

For more about office wellbeing, see our previous office wellbeing article for some simple changes you can make around the office for a healthier workplace.