This is a really interesting question and one I hadn’t thought about before. I can certainly see how, if executed poorly, a workplace fitness challenge could become exclusionary. With a few areas of focus I believe you can have a successful program that improves the office community.
- Don’t make it feel mandatory. You can accomplish this by having someone who is not in management take the lead on the program. Preferably someone who has a good rapport with people across multiple teams. This person is likely the “fun person” with whom people enjoy spending moments with. This person isn’t going to be bothered in the slightest if someone declines to join and will make the challenge fun.
- Make sure the program is focused on something other than pure weight loss. Pure weight loss challenges can encourage unhealthy habits as well as be intimidating for many people who do not feel comfortable sharing their weight with others.
- Create opportunities for non-participants to participate. This means that if you occasionally provide lunch or other treats that you provide healthier options alongside what you’d normally offer. By still providing your normal options you’re reinforcing that it’s not mandatory and it also provides opportunities for non-participants to actually participate. You may hear things like “Ok Joe Bob, I’m passing on the donuts for you.” from a non-participant to a participant.
Combined with point #4 you could set a goal the combines the success of all of the participants. If the combined efforts result in hitting a specific target, the entire office gets a reward. Then those who were too nervous to join can be more supportive and may even unofficially participate.
- Celebrate the winners. Notice that’s plural. Having a winner take all doesn’t have as much of a community feedback as having multiple winners. By having multiple winners (say the top 3 or so) you’re providing yourself the opportunity to recognize people on different teams and from different backgrounds.
I’ve been fortunate to work for multiple organizations that have tried various forms of fitness challenges and I’ve not seen one cause any negative issues to arise. They’ve all either formed or strengthened communities within the organization. If you do it right this can be a real win for the entire company.