Activity Challenges and Incentives

We ran a team challenge this winter, partly to test a new way to drive participation, and partly because, well, that’s just what we do around here.

Previous internal challenges had varying levels of participation and success – some were outstanding from start to finish, while others started slower and fizzled even more near the end. Winter weather, daylight hours, and heavy work-loads all have a negative impact on participation so we set out to find an incentive formula that might up the fun-factor and get the “buzz” going.   Walker Tracker employees tend to be pretty active, so providing motivation to exercise is not as much of an issue here as it may be in other organizations. With us, it’s more about competition and teamwork.

Would $$ make a big difference?

There is an important debate going on in the wellness world around the efficacy of incentives to drive behavior change. We have had the chance to observe many corporate programs and generally believe that paying people to live a certain way doesn’t work very well in the long-term.  That said, we have also seen really good results when incentives are used to create game-like structure to captivate and maintain interest. There’s a subtle, but important, difference between the two approaches.

In this most recent challenge we set out to test different reward scenarios:

  • What’s the impact of adding a ‘buy-in’?
  • How much difference does it make to add a company match to the pot?
  • Does including spouses/partners increase the competitiveness of the challenge?

Here were the specifics:

The Competition: Al Capone’s Chicago (Walker Tracker’s first-person virtual tour of Gangland Chicago in the 20′s)

The Device: Fitlinxx Pebble

Teams:  Employee and spouse/partner/friend

The Pot: $10/ea buy-in with Walker Tracker matching the participant contributions

There were three chances to win and each team can only win once. So, the pot was to be split three ways.

  1. team with the most total steps (not what we usually recommend, but Walker Tracker employees are super competitive with each other)
  2. team with the highest number of days over goal for both members
  3. highest poker hand from the total step number (a fun way to keep everyone in the game)

The generous “pot” created a nice buzz from the start. Clever team names emerged, always a good sign that employees are getting into the spirit. Soon the banter began and we all knew this was going to be a hotly contested challenge.

The challenge began in the middle of Portland’s typically wet and grey winter, when motivation to go outside wanes. Some teams had a strategy of going for several, independent, short walks mid-day. Other teams drew motivation from their dogs when they got home on those dreary Portland winter days. Spouses and partners provided ample encouragement to one another to get out there and walk for the “sake of the team”.

Participants were surveyed at the end of the challenge and here’s what we found:

1) The prize pool positively impacted registrations, but it wasn’t the primary driving factor for most teams to complete the event.  The company match had the positive effect of increasing the prize pool enough to have three separate winning teams. In the end, the monetary prizes were more of a competitive “badge of honor” than a desire for the cash itself. The prizes were more about competitive people keeping score, pure and simple.

2) Adding spouses/partners to the mix was a big motivator. We found that non-employee spouses were really enthusiastic about being part of the company challenge and often ended up ‘nagging’ their teammate to get out there and walk.  Key finding – the teams whose members walked together had the best results.

3) The buy-in really helped to solidify the commitment of the teams. Pulling $10 out of your wallet/purse wakes you up to the fact that you really have signed up for something. On that note, we highly recommend that the buy-in be collected up-front.

Challenge Results:  In the end it was great fun to compete with our friends and loved ones. The winning teams  were ‘Tay+Jac’ with the highest step total. They had some phenomenal walking days, especially on weekends.  ‘Walking Pneumonia’* got the prize for team with the highest number of days over goal for both members. And, even after coming in dead last, team ‘Long Legs’ walked away with the prize for highest poker hand from the total step number (a rather pathetic two-pair, 8′s and 2′s).

*the Walking Pneumonia team started the first two weeks with both members sick and one member literally hospitalized with pneumonia.
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One step ahead of stress – A letter to Walker Tracker

We recently received a letter from a participant that moved us more than words can express. Colleen and her family have been through the toughest of times and we were so happy to hear that her community walking program helped cope with the stress. Not only is walking a great physical exercise but it is also a wonderful social tool (make new friends!) and keeps stress at bay. You can read Colleen’s letter below.


“Your competition played an integral role in assisting me during a very difficult phase of my life. In August 0f 2014 my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. Chemo & radiation treatments commenced and his health and recovery immediately consumed our lives.

When word spread through-out our neighborhood about my husband’s illness friends and acquaintances immediately offered their support and assistance. One of my neighbors sent me a link to your competition suggesting that a physical outlet may be helpful in dealing with the stress and in keeping my own health in good order.

I immediately seized on the opportunity to join the “DOG MOMS” team and through the support of a team of amazing women I have been able to become physically and emotionally strong enough to cope with the medical challenges that continue to be part of our lives. In fact, as the competition wore on, more and more of our neighbors (now friends) chose to join us during some of our walks and they all have been there to cheer us on.

My husband was accepted in to a 12 month trial drug program at a hospital in South Florida under the guidance of Dr. M and his research staff. Each day that we go for treatment I walk the halls between the Cancer Center and the hospital, take a lap out-side around the hospital and then climb the stairs to the 4TH floor to check on my husband’s progress.

Walking became an integral part of how I coped with his chemo, radiation & infusions and the Walker Tracker portal encouraged me every step of the way. While there are certainly other programs available, none of them combine the same ease of use, straightforward graphical reporting or ability to socially interact.

Over these past four months not only have I made wonderful new friends but even the research assistant in charge of my husband’s charting has chosen to join our “group” of walkers. Around the halls of the hospital and in the various Imaging Centers I am known as “The Walker Lady”. My own personal health has greatly improved and I am thrilled to report that my husband has begun taking a lap around the block (neighbors have chairs strategically placed should he need to rest).

I know that there must be many more stories such as mine where this portal has enabled a participant to make a significant change in their life and I am hoping that our program will reconsider their decision to close the website.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter and for any assistance that you can provide.”

- Colleen


Thank you for sharing your story Colleen. We’re always eager to hear from our fellow walkers.

New: Android app!

It’s been a big week for mobile at Walker Tracker. A new version of our iOS app launched with a big new feature (friends pane), and just this morning our Android app became available on Google Play.

We worked really hard on this app, and I’m really excited about it. If you have an Android phone, enough talk! Get it straightaway:

Here are a few screenshots. A large core of the site’s functionality can now be done within the app. Enjoy! And if you like it, please consider giving us a review.

Android app on Google Play  |  iOS app on the App Store

 

 

New trackers: Water & Fruits & Veggies

As an admin, if you want to add a new type of tracker to your program – you can now do so in Admin > Customize Program > Control Custom Metrics.

We have two widgets there that can be instantly turned on in a program.

Water Tracking

We worked under the old adage that you should drink eight eight-ounce of water a day (8×8). Excess water is not necessarily good for you, so our water tracker maxes out at eight. We also want to emphasize that while the 8×8 rule is a handy memory device, it’s worth reading up on how much water you really need per day.  The water tracker is meant as a means to quantify something that has until now been subjective. For further reading on water intake: Mayo ClinicAuthorityNutrition

Fruit & Veggies Tracking

As a whole, Americans eat far fewer servings of fruits and vegetables than the CDC recommends. The science behind this is clear: Eating ample fruits and vegetables correlates to better heart health, lower cancer risk, decreased risk of stroke, better eyesight, lower blood pressure, and many other positives. Read more about it at Harvard’s School of Public Health. Our tracker, like the water tracker, is there to help you quantify something that has remained subjective. We want to make tracking quick and easy — unlike full-blown food trackers you use once and then forget about. A tool that allows you a moment of reflection about your diet, and an opportunity to track these dietary habits over time.

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For program admins who are running challenges around these trackers – there is a great download tool that allows you to specify thresholds and pull data over date ranges.

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Enjoy!

Admin of the Month: PrairieLand Partners, Inc.

Jeanine from PrairieLand Partners, Inc. is one of our stellar program administrators. We’re always eager to read the next E-mail to her walkers, which include great tips, fun photos, program statistics as well as a personal touch. Her competitions have great participation results too, so we asked her if she would share her experience as program admin. Read on for Jeanine’s account on being a program admin, how to motivate walkers and ideas for incentives:

“I started doing the Walker Tracker competitions in March of 2011.  I think that one of the most important administrative duties to facilitate the Walker Tracker program is to stay engaged with the competition, with the competitors and offering words of encouragement as well as offering suggestions for additional health benefits.  And yes, the Administrator has to participate by walking, making comments, giving away points and posting pictures.

One thing that I learned early on was that if you solely offer awards to the employees that have the most steps or second most steps, or those that are determined to be the best in the competition, people will drop out fast.  They think that they will never be able to “win” or get ahead so why do it at all.  I now do random drawings every week.  This allows everyone a chance to feel like they are participating and being rewarded for that participation.  There are different criteria for the random drawings….must be ahead of the pacer…top ten/bottom ten…random numbers.  The prizes do not have to be great – we give out gift cards ($10 to Subway or a local grocery store), reflective snap bracelets, small coolers and cash ($10 – $20).  We do give out a grand prize and a second and third place prize.

This year, we are tying the Walker Tracker program into our overall Wellness Program.  Participants earn points towards our health insurance in order to receive reduced rates.  Each of the Walker Tracker challenges they participate in have to be 8 weeks in length.  I do short, what I call sprints between the main challenges.

I try and keep my emails short and full of interesting facts, recipes, thoughts, tips, images etc.  It is almost like my personal blog!  I have fun with it, but as with anything that you want to be worthwhile, it does require some planning and time.

Our biometric screenings we do in the fall have shown that any exercise program and attention to wellness have aided in reducing our insurance rates this past year.  We are focused on continuing that trend and will continue utilizing the Walker Tracker program”.

Thanks Jeanine, you’re a star admin!

Are you an admin? Want to share your story, planning or tips? contact us at accounts@walkertracker.com or comment below.

 

 

 

Take it outside!

When the sun is bright and the air is cool and crisp, days practically beg for exercise: a long walk, an invigorating run, a bike ride on a new path. Yet when you’re in the depths of Winter and the snow is piled high, the rain is incessant (we’re in drizzly Portland, OR.), the temperatures have dropped or the wind is howling, staying warm and cozy indoors can certainly override your resolve to work out.

Now that we’re winding our way out of those short Winter days it is a great time to be reminded of the benefits of spending time on outdoor activities.

Outdoor activity reduces the risk of suffering from poor mental health by 50%. According to a University of Glasgow study published in Social Science Medicine exercising in forests and parks protects against “ill mental health” in a way that working out at the gym does not.

I use exercise as a great way to de-stress and regroup my thoughts. It is a lot harder to do this indoors where we’re surrounded by all the things we’re trying to get away from: computers, work, phones. When exercising outdoors I’m more likely to go further than I would on a treadmill because I’m enjoying my time and not focusing on the numbers on a machine.

You don’t have to be an intrepid explorer to soak up the benefits of walking outdoors. Even a small burst of exercise can improve both your self-esteem and your mood. If you can’t get to a natural area, hit the pavement, the fresh air alone will perk you up.

Stumbling doesn’t equal Falling and Falling doesn’t equal Defeat

So, a new year has begun and we’re already halfway into the first month. Can you believe it? I would like to sit here and be able to say that I am not a New Years Resolution sort of gal but I am. Sometimes you need a designated date to say, “Today I will mark a new beginning”. I hope that whatever resolution you have picked you are sticking with it. It’s been said that it takes a minimum of 21 days to make a habit so you’re already 15 days into at this time. Keep going.

Have you already had a hiccup that threw you off of your goal? Pick yourself back up and KEEP GOING. I want this to be an underlying theme for this year. Keep Going. My two big sayings in life is, “It’s better late than never,” and “No more looking back with ‘I would’ve, should’ve or could’ve’.” How do I stick to my sayings? I just KEEP GOING. It’s important to note that you mustn’t trudge on and lose sight of the original goal. Always keep that ending in mind, but know that sometimes you might have to change the path to get there. So you thought you’d run a half marathon by May but you got overwhelmed in work/life and haven’t had time to run everyday like you thought. It’s okay, KEEP GOING. Instead of “by May” change it to “I am going to run a Marathon this year”. Tweak your path to running in the mornings before work or much of anything else can intrude and crumble your plans.

Look, we are all mere humans. We are going to sabotage ourselves at certain times and make poor decisions but that doesn’t give you an excuse to give up. Part of keeping going is to get real with yourself and get rid of the excuses. No more BUT’s and CANT’s. Realize that a lot of the time the word that should go there is WONT and won’t is a choice.

So KEEP up the great work, or, get back GOING on that goal either way just KEEP GOING.

6 Ways to Stay Warm (and Fit!) this Winter

If Penguin Huddling is not an option for you….

Try moving. It’s simple and everyone can do some form of it.  Here are some quick ways to get the blood pumping and reap the benefits of being active.

AT THE OFFICE: You may already have some of these characters around…

  1. Jumpin’ Jill – do 50 jumping jacks every hour on the hour
  2. Squatin’ Stewart – when you’re on the phone try staying in a wall sit for the first 2 minutes
  3. Pushin’ Patrick – do 10 pushups, or inclined pushups with your hands on your desk, whenever you’re cooling down

AT HOME: You too can save money on your heating bill – and be an avid at-home exerciser, here are some of my favorites!

  1. The “TV Commercial Opportunist” – while watching reruns of the Big Band Theory, make the commercials count: jog in place, do some lunges, crunches, or even jump rope if you have the space!
  2. The “Tricky Laundry Stepper” – bank some steps while folding laundry, – fold one item and put it away, repeat for the next 1,000+ items that came out of your dryer.  Just imagine the steps you’ll get.
  3. The “My neighbors think I’m crazy” – when you take out the trash or grab the mail, do lunges or skip on the way.

Please, share yours too!

 

Nice vs Mean: Managerial styles and employee health

There’s a fascinating article at the Harvard Business Review that ties together a number of studies on the efficacy of being a nice boss versus a stern, removed one. Despite many changes in how businesses are run in the 21st century, the long-lasting stereotype for how to be a boss remains: It’s better to be respected than liked.

Turns out, nothing could be further from the truth.

The study goes on to list the incredible number of benefits that warm, self-sacrificing bosses can expect from their employees, including:

- A lower stress workplace (Consider the effect of the whole plethora of symptoms related to high-stress on the productivity of a workplace, including “Trouble learning new information”, “Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion”, and “Difficulty in making decisions”, absenteeism and finally, employee loss)

- Higher effectivity — employees trust a kinder boss

- Higher levels of citizenship and productivity

- Better client outcomes

Read the article at Harvard Business Review: The Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss

Why counting counts

What’s all this tracking business, anyway? Everyone seems to be hopping on the bandwagon to get the brand new fitness devices. In 2014, interest in purchasing wearable fitness devices quadrupled (according to a CEA Study). There seems to be a few outstanding reasons why:

  1. Motivation – we need a reason to be active.
  2. Monitoring fitness goal progress – Like Pearson’s Law, which we at Walker Tracker firmly believe, “That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improved exponentially.” This one rings true for me; I look back at my step log from a year ago to check in and make sure I’m progressing or at least maintaining my activity level.
  3. Monitoring physical activity level and intensity – how hard did you work?

For all those competitive folks out there – it’s a great way to make fitness fun.   On Walker Tracker you have the option to compare your steps with your friends or challenge them in a competition. Need more reasons to join in the tracking revolution?   Here is a bit on what we use and why we count:

Taylor – My Fitbit keeps me motivated and is a constant reminder to move more. I can tell the difference in my daily activity if I put my wristband on in the morning compared to when I forget. It’s also fun to reach a goal everyday – breaking my long term goals into manageable pieces makes it easier and more fun!

Steve – I’ve been using the Withings plus activity tracker on my hikes here in the PNW and in the city.   It’s a good reminder to push myself to walk more on those rainy weekdays when motivation is lacking. The elevation tracking feature and heart rate monitor is a cool added bonus that gets infrequent use but is good to have. Comes with a free app so I can pair it with my android phone for weekly overview and better stats.

Nikki – I use the exercise app, Run Keeper! It keeps a log of my exercise, sends me motivational push notifications, let’s me take a photo of my exercise/run, and accurately tracks my distance and elevation. This app is great for everything from trail running to walking with a friend.

Jillian – I like mapmyride because it has virtually ALL activities as options (even hiking with light/medium/heavy backpack options). I like how it tells me when I have PR’d (beat my personal record) on a course (running or biking) and also tells me what other people have don’t that course and how well they did. Its also neat know when I do a “climb” on my bike and how long it was and what the grade of the road was.  I can control my music through the app, but I don’t usually use that feature. It will also allow me to record an outdoor activity, like a hike, even if I don’t have internet…it just downloads the information as soon as I am back within cell range. And of course being able to post to Facebook is fun too.

Ben – I have worn a tracking device non-stop since December of 2005. Since it’s in my job description to test new devices, I often wear two or three. Currently I’m wearing a Fitlinxx Pebble, a FitBit One, and I’m using both Moves App and Healthkit’s internal pedometer on my phone. None of them agree with each other, of course — and that’s been my experience with all devices so far. However, accuracy is less important than our ability to judge how we do relative to previous days. And this is what I was most struck by (and still am) — the ability to turn something that was formerly subjective (how much physical activity I got in a day) into objective, quantifiable data. I’m a strong believer in one of our own mottoes, ‘that which is measured, improves’ — and this has certainly been the case for me. The measuring of my own data has made me more mindful and healthier.

Blanca - I wear a Fitbit Flex daily. I love how easily it syncs to my account and it is pretty generous with step counts. To be honest, I didn’t spend more than a couple of weeks making manual entries before I switched to a wireless device and I haven’t looked back since.

The drawbacks of the Flex are that it took me a while to get used to putting the wrist band on first thing in the morning and I occasionally forget to charge it/misplace the charger. The Fitbit doesn’t track outdoor cycling well (if at all) so I still need to convert any biking on the Walker Tracker activity converter.

I also wear a Fitlinxx Pebble, which gives me less steps and therefore I assume a more accurate count of my daily activities. Because the Pebble is worn at the waist and not the wrist it doesn’t give me extra steps for washing dishes and other arm-shaking movements that don’t really deserve much credit. That being said, occasionally it feels like I just didn’t get the credit I deserved which could be user error (the Pebble should be secured tightly to the waist or shoe). The Pebble, like the Fitbit doesn’t accurately track outdoor cycling steps.
Another plus to the Pebble is that it uses a coin battery, so I don’t need to remember to charge it before heading on a long hike or weekend adventure.