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Management: Office Fitness Challenges - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Office Fitness Challenges

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Office Fitness Challenges

The office fitness challenge has been around for a long time, but the proliferation of wearable fitness tracking and accompanying social media platforms has made them easier to track on a daily--even hourly--basis, keeping participants engaged and up-to-date on their competition. Combined with many companies’ proactive focus on employee health, environments and cultures seem ripe for the collegiality and camaraderie a good fitness challenge can develop.

Fitness challenges encourage better choices, friendly accountability, and positive habits. Like a good holiday party, community service activity, or even fantasy football league, they are a way to develop relationships defined by something other than chain of command or my-job-your-job. But they can also be a minefield, and as a leader you want to be aware of possible missteps.

As a voice for the company, it’s probably best you don’t lead a fitness challenge, although your participation can certainly be a good idea if the idea appeals to you. No matter how else you slice it, your relationship with your employees has an inherent element of power that you can’t mess around with. You can be a hundred percent sincere in offering the challenge as completely free of any pressure or expectation, but that doesn’t prevent members of the team from feeling a sense of obligation. The power dynamic throws all kinds of things off, but you knew that when you accepted the job.

Leadership means keeping an eye out for everyone, so whether or not you participate in the fitness challenge, keep tabs on it. Make sure participation is completely opt-in, with no pressure to join. Fitness is unbreakably tied to diet, and both are intensely personal for some people. There are a thousand legitimate, understandable reasons a person may not want others to know his or her weight, eating habits, or physical activity, and most of them aren’t anyone else’s business. A nagging injury from an abusive parent, a congenital hormone imbalance, or recovery from an eating disorder might all benefit from shared conversation and openness, but that’s not a decision to be made by you, by participants in a challenge, or by anyone other than the person directly affected. Please encourage respect for personal boundaries and opting out without apologies or explanations.

Many fitness challenges have some kind of money-related consequence: make your goal, and get your entry fee back, plus a split of the fees paid by those who don’t meet their goals; best improvement wins everything; everything goes to a charity of the winner’s choice. There can be varying levels of financial penalty or reward, but it almost doesn’t matter. Competition plus money is a formula for bringing out the worst in some people. Even in good fun, someone may game the system by strapping his Fitbit onto his toddler’s ankle during playground time, or in a weight-by-honor system, someone could just lie about results. Your people are responsible, reasonable adults, so chances are you won’t have to moderate any conflicts, but this is one of the mines in the minefield. Keep an eye on those mines.

Despite the cautions, a good fitness challenge potentially leads to life-changing habits, and healthier employees are better employees. If you don’t jump into the challenge yourself, do what you can to support the team as it strives to make better decisions. Instead of doughnuts, bring in a healthier treat Friday morning, or allow an extra half an hour (to participants and nonparticipants) for dedicated healthy activity time, whether it’s a nap, a walk, meditation, or a post-workout shower. Let everyone know you appreciate the effort, and pave the way for nonparticipants to join in next time, or simply to make healthy lifestyle changes on their own.


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Management: Office Fitness Challenges - Executive Leadership Articles

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