The new year brings New Year’s resolutions. Some people may vow to eat healthier, get organized, quit smoking or spend less. With employees eager to make changes to their lives, this is the perfect time for HR to reassess wellness initiatives to help employees reach their resolution goals.
Plenty of people make resolutions to lose weight or get healthier, so it may seem like a good idea to implement some type of company-wide weight loss challenge.
However, as popular as they once were, weight loss challenges can be unhelpful and downright damaging for some employees.
Breaking old tradition
Weight loss challenges can seem harmless – even positive – at first glance. After all, the main goal of any of these challenges is to help employees become their healthiest, best selves.
However, they can be harmful to many groups, including employees who:
- Have a disability or physical condition
- Have a history of or are currently suffering from an eating disorder, or
- Are trying to gain muscle mass or weight.
Even if your program isn’t company-wide, hearing conversations at work about weight and eating can be triggering to some individuals who struggle with eating due to conditions such as anorexia, bulimia or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). It can also force an employee to disclose something private, such as pregnancy or a mobility issue.
It’s also important to consider those who simply don’t want to lose weight, but may feel compelled to for a company initiative. The way weight loss challenges are handled in the workplace can cause feelings of guilt or shame if employees aren’t making weight loss a priority.
Weight loss challenges can unintentionally conflate weight and health status. Although there is a general idea in society that health and thinness are synonymous, trends such as body positivity and body neutrality are on the rise, and society is progressing to look at weight as one factor of health instead of its entirety.
Sometimes these types of challenges can also prompt employees to engage in unhealthy habits such as restricting food in order to lose more weight – the exact opposite of what you want a wellness program to do.
Alternative initiatives and best practices
Don’t throw in the towel on wellness initiatives just yet – there are plenty of ways you can implement wellness while staying inclusive.
Hydration challenge. Try focusing on another aspect of health by encouraging employees to drink more water with a hydration challenge. Employees can earn points when they hit a goal of a certain amount of ounces of water within a day or week. You can even encourage employees to drink more by providing company water bottles.
Resolution bet. Instead of creating a company-wide challenge, let employees pick one resolution they have to work on. You can do a “resolution bet” by having participating employees commit to a goal for 30 days for an incentive.
Activity challenge. Although you may want to do a step challenge or movement goal, broadening the initiative as an “activity challenge” can help those with mobility issues or disabilities feel included. Whatever type of activity or exercise employees want to do to help keep them active can be turned into a company challenge without making those who can’t do traditional movement feel left out.
Mental wellness months. You can also take the focus off physical health by choosing a different goal for mental wellness each month. For example, you could encourage employees to focus on mindfulness and meditation one month with incentives for each mental wellness goal.
No matter what initiatives you decide to do, use these best practices to ensure that employees feel included and stay happy and healthy.
- Make any type of competition optional
- Consider careful word choices when talking about health, and
- Keep the “prize” to any challenge low-value.