Employees can get their game on while getting healthy
Susan Kim, Stephanie Graham
All work and no play? Not for Kurt Augustine. For him, working out is all part of the game--a health game that is.
"It's something you think of every day. You're really fighting for bragging rights," Kurt says.
He's logging steps on the treadmill--each mile adding up to rewards points at work. Kurt and his co-workers can also earn prizes and perks for eating healthy, taking vitamins, or even getting a flu shot.
Chris Boyce is CEO of Virgin Health Miles. He says, "They might compete in how many fruits and vegetables they eat during a day compared to their coworkers."
A growing number of employers are now incorporating games into their health plans. Luann Heinen is Vice President at the National Business Group On Health. She explains, "This is not your HR Department telling you to eat less and move more. This is a game. It's fun, it's social, it's got employees talking in the break room."
In addition to bragging rights, employees can win real life rewards: From t-shirts, to gift cards, to a discount on their health insurance premiums.
The International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans works studies these sorts of plans. Director of Research Julie Stich says, "Some will give larger gifts at the end where the winning team will get a day off, or they'll get a catered lunch or they get their name put in a drawing for a gaming system or for a tablet."
Those companies have reason to offer rewards.
"Healthier employees who are more productive, they're happier, they're more engaged, they're at work instead of absent. And all this can have a positive impact on a company's bottom line," Stich notes.
Human Resources Vice President Tonya Jarvis says it's made a huge difference in participation in her company's wellness plan - with 60% of employees playing. "It's fun and competitive and it keeps people involved because there's always the next objective to get to."
Stich adds, "One thing to remember is not every employee is a joiner, and not everyone embraces the competition."
So what happens if a worker opts out? Experts say companies can penalize those who don't participate with higher premiums or deductibles, but they still have to carefully follow privacy, disability and anti-discrimination laws, or they may end up facing penalties of their own.
Kurt says in his case, the pressure comes from his work pals. "Ithink there's a peer pressure to be in this program, but I think it's a good pressure. It's not like another thing I have to do for work."
Kurt says he's already won, losing five pounds and gaining the competitive edge over his co-workers.
"You get to have a little moment where you pass by their office and go, 'I made it, where are you?'" Kurt says.
There are health games you can play on your own as well. Phone apps such as 'Runkeeper' or even the Weight Watchers app have game like aspects with badges and rewards for staying active and losing weight.