Running a Wellness Challenge: Tips for Getting Started and Boosting Participation

It’s not going to come as any surprise, but the COVID-19 pandemic has turned many of us into sedentary, bleary-eyed balls of stress. According to a health survey by Kaiser Family Foundation, 39 percent of U.S. adults say that worry or stress related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health—of those, 12 percent say it has had a “major” impact.

Social distancing and working from home also means we’re getting out less and looking at screens more, as several emerging studies confirm. Even our fancy smart watches are ratting us out and reporting a drop in overall steps and activity. And that’s to be expected. Even if we weren’t marathon runners pre-pandemic, we’re not sprinting to that important meeting or to catch the bus anymore.

So how can companies help employees face up to all this? At Service Direct, we decided to put a wellness challenge into action as a way of supporting each other’s wellbeing and trying to rebuild healthy habits that might have been lost in the transition to remote work. Our daily rou tine of seeing each other in the office had been disrupted, but that didn’t mean we were any less of a team. Fortunately, we have seen great results from our wellness challenge, and we’d like to offer some advice based on our experiences.

Our Wellness Challenge at a Glance

A wellness challenge can take on many shapes and sizes, and what’s right for one organization may not be right for yours, but this might give you some ideas on how to structure your own wellness program. Here’s an outline of our approach.


We established a three-month timeline for this challenge and decided that it would run from the first day of July through the last day of September.


Our challenge tasks were divided into three categories, with points assigned to each:


We created lists of activities within each category:

High-Impact Activities

Medium-Impact Activities

Low-Impact Activities:


We used a Slack channel to update our scoreboard once a week based on the efforts of our participants. We also made it easy for everyone to learn how to participate by creating an overview video.

Recognition, Celebration, and Feedback

At the end of the challenge, we had a wrap-up video conference party to celebrate everyone’s efforts, and we gave out wellness-related prizes to the top three winners (see what they were later in this post). All other participants got a wellness challenge t-shirt. We also sent out a feedback survey to learn more about what went well and how to improve the next time around.

What Were the Results?

Feedback from the Post-Challenge Survey

After the wrap-up party, we sent out a survey to better understand how employees felt about the wellness challenge. About 70 percent of employees participated in the challenge and 100 percent of them sa id they would likely participate in the challenge again! To us, this was wonderful news.

Here are other notable responses from the survey:

Some employees elaborated on their new or improved healthy habits, explaining how the wellness challenge helped them feel more aware and focused on their wellness:

Did We Increase Employee Wellness?

We think we did, and that’s in part because this was not solely a fitness challenge—the focus was on overall wellness. Physical fitness is a part of it, but it’s too narrow a definition of wellness and can end up excluding certain employees. This is why we included activities that varied from typical physical exercise to mental fitness and emotional self-care.

The real benefit, though, was the sense of community and purpose we created by sharing this journey with co-workers. In fact, everyone liked sharing their gratitude so much in the Slack channel that we’ve kept it going ever since the challenge ended. The team continues to post daily about what they’re grateful for and share their wellness activities regardless of whether or not a challenge is ongoing. That alone speaks volumes in terms of the value of making something like this a priority for your team culture.

Running Your Own Wellness Challenge

Setting up a wellness challenge in your business is a wonderful idea, whether the world is in the middle of a pandemic or not. However, you need to make a plan for implementing and running the challenge if you want employees to get the most out of it. Based on our experience, here are three important tips to point your challenge in a successful direction.

Tip #1: Select a Specific Timeframe

People tend to struggle with commitment when a challenge or project is open-ended. This is why work projects tend to have specific deliverables—the target keeps everyone on task and focused on getting it done. It’s no different with a wellness challenge. If you simply start up a challenge with no end date in sight, your team might decide to wait and jump in later or just dismiss it entirely.

Decide on a start and end date for the challenge, and let everyone know well in advance. Some people might want to do a little prep before the challenge starts, such as buying a new pair of shoes if they are going to walk or run each day. We found the three-month timeline to be effective, but you could even start with something as short as one month.

Tip #2: Pick a Leader

It’s important to put one or two people in charge of this project right from the start. There needs to be a go-to person available when members of your team have questions about the challenge. Knowing who is running the event and where they can turn for help will make it more appealing to participate from start to finish.

Pick someone in your organization who is a natural fit to lead the way, or ask for volunteers. At Service Direct, we have a dedicated “Loyalty Team” of about five people, and a designated Loyalty Team member represents each team at our company. They’re the ones in charge of planning our culture and team-building related activities, so they led our wellness challenge.

Tip #3: Centralize Your Task Management

We wanted to make it easy and fun for employees to join and participate, but that took coordination and planning. We created an Asana task to track all of the to-dos necessary to manage the challenge. This is where we brainstormed, planned, managed, and delegated tasks. This way, we could make sure to smooth the way for our employees to fully immerse themselves in the challenge.

Our task list consisted of the following:

Tip #4: Decide on Challenge Activities

This is really where you will make or break the success of your challenge. Having diversity within your challenge makes it more appealing to your team as a whole. Also, it better represents what you are trying to accomplish: helping everyone feel good, be productive, and grow. Fitness-related activities are a good foundation for a wellness challenge, but they shouldn’t be the whole story. Add in things like reading, tech-free time, sleep goals, and other activities that will encourage everyone to be more mindful with their time.

We feel that our wellness challenge was successful specifically because of the range of activities we included as options. If your challenge is too narrow, you’ll be unintentionally discouraging some people from participating. For instance, if you only reward healthy eating and exercising, people who already do those things will jump right in and take the top spots, leaving less health-conscious people behind and feeling discouraged from the start.

Tip #5: Provide a Shared Tracking Environment

The social aspect of a wellness challenge is a big part of what makes it work. How many people try to launch new wellness habits on their own, only to quit shortly thereafter? It’s much harder to stick with something like this when you are doing it on your own.

To make sure this feels like a common effort rather than a solo venture, use a shared digital location where results can be tracked. Even something as simple as a shared spreadsheet where activities can be recorded will do the job. We created this shared wellness challenge template for everyone to use to track their progress. Our weekly check-ins on Slack also went a long way toward keeping all participants focused on the journey.

How to Increase Participation

Don’t make your wellness challenge mandatory. After all, if someone doesn’t want to do it, they won’t be motivated to engage in activities and make progress, which just defeats the whole purpose of such a program. However, you’ll want to make it as appealing as possible to all your employees.

So what can you do to encourage widespread participation? Start with these three ideas.

Make a Bold Announcement

If you simply drop a line to your staff through a standard company email, you may not get much of a response. Your teams are busy and probably get dozens of messages a day. A regular, old email will just be something else to kick over to their trash bin.

Take some time to design a compelling announcement, and promote it on all of the communication channels you use in your business. This should be news that no one can miss, and it should encourage everyone to join.

Simplify Communication

Speaking of communication, those who do join the challenge should find it as easy as possible to keep up and enter their stats. Pick one communication channel from the start, and keep everything related to the challenge in that one place. We used a dedicated Slack channel for this purpose, but you can set it up in whatever way makes sense for your business.

During the pandemic, we obviously performed all of our tracking in the digital realm. However, if you get into a challenge once back in the office, you could set up a tracking station in the break room or some other common space. However you decide to set it up, the key is simplicity— making it complicated or frustrating will only cause people to drop out.

Keep It Open

You shouldn’t exclude employees from joining a week or two into the challenge. By sharing periodic updates on the status of the challenge with your whole team—not just those involved—you can cause a bit of “fear of missing out” among the rest of the staff. Someone who didn’t have much interest at the start of the challenge might decide to jump in once they see how well it is going.

Get Some Friendly Competition Going

Depending on your company’s culture, instilling a little friendly competition can encourage participation as well. For our team, having weekly leaderboard updates and reminding everyone that there would be a wrap-up party and prizes at the end definitely helped people interested and stick to it. We totaled up the points at the end of each week and posted a screenshot of the leaderboard.

This isn’t meant to be a cutthroat competition, of course—the idea is to support each other and become better as a group. The weekly scoreboard update allows for that kind of lighthearted competition along with accountability.

Host a Wrap-Up Party

A wrap-up party recognizes everyone’s participation. It’s also a way to thank employees and celebrate them for their efforts. Giving everyone a small gift, like we did with t-shirts, is also a nice gesture of thanks and recognition.

When our event ended, we were still working remotely, so we held a digital event to celebrate each other’s achievements and talk about what we learned. We sent everyone their branded wellness challenge t-shirt the week of the wrap-up party so they could wear them on camera. We also announced the winners of the challenge and their prizes during the party. We wanted all of the prizes to be somewhat wellness related or exercise accessories, so this is what we decided on:

Give It a Try!

We love how our wellness challenge benefitted those on our team who took part. While the circumstances around the challenge were obviously less than ideal, this project took a bad situation and made it a little better.

Whether you get your challenge started using the framework we created or go in your own direction to customize the experience for your needs, just remember the world doesn’t need to be stuck in a pandemic to justify a wellness challenge. There’s never a bad time to feel better!

Matt Buchanan is the Co-Founder and Chief Growth Officer at Service Direct, a technology company that offers local lead generation solutions for service businesses. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University. He has 15+ years of expertise in local lead generation, sales, search engine marketing, and building and executing growth strategies.