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9 Ways to Gamify Your Wellness Program

Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan on May 30, 2017 11:15 AM

Games. We’re wired to love them. They’re a diversion, an escape into something competitive, social, rewarding and fun.

And it’s nearly impossible for most of us to say no when we’re asked to take part. Especially if we’re promised incentives and rewards along the way.  

So, as organizations work to boost wellness program utilization and engagement rates, sustain behavior changes, and find a way to clearly measure program ROI, applying the key principles of games makes brilliant sense - especially with the help of technology.  

No wonder the gamification of wellness programs has skyrocketed the last several years, with more than 62% of employers using gamification methods to promote and engage employees in health and wellness initiatives - and experiencing great success as a result.  Provided employees are interested, inspired and incented, for the most part, they're in. 

While the number of companies developing devices, technologies and services in the wellness space provides for great choice, great data and great results, a gamification strategy can feel overwhelming and out of budget, particularly for HR departments within small to mid-size organizations.

Read on for nine ways to up your game – whether you’re working with a sizeable, or a shoestring budget.

  1. Conduct contests and offer gift cards, monetary bonuses, additional PTO and company-wide recognition for activities like: highest participation in local road races (family members included), attendance of 10 onsite yoga sessions, enrollment in parenting or financial planning classes, or completion of an online holistic class, like those offered by The Chopra Center. Consider assigning point values to these activities, and then offer thresholds for various prize levels each month.  Run contests for individuals, as well as departments.

    RELATED: 9 Holistic Wellness Initiatives Employees Appreciate 

  2. Implement an organization-wide steps or movement program like the ones many companies have instituted with great success the past few years, with the help of wearable tech like Fitbit, Moov, Apple Watch, Microsoft Band or Jawbone. Or, let your employees propose their own personal plans and goals, and provide their results month to month to redeem prizes. If you can’t purchase wearable tech for your employees, consider subsidizing it or simply offering rewards for proof of use of their own personal devices.

  3. Institute a simple walking program utilizing the resources made available by The CDC for its Worksite Walking Campaign, which gives step-by-step guides for implementation, including appropriate text alert series, and sample e-Cards to encourage utilization.

  4. Consider investing in a large-scale wellness platform like Virgin Pulse or Limeade, which are the full digital embodiment of wellness gamification at its comprehensive, personalized best.

  5. Enlist employee volunteers to trial top wellness apps, provide a review of them for other employees using social media platforms, and be rewarded as a result.

  6. Offer a lottery or sweepstakes program that incents teams or departments to participate in wellness programs and share in a pool of prize winnings. Teams can be entered to win based on 100% completion of things like enrollment paperwork, participation in a road race, collective weight loss or proposing and participating in a new wellness initiative they’ve discovered or designed as a group.  

  7. Quiz or poll your employees in areas that test their knowledge of wellness-related topics and/or the wellness programs you offer. Use a free online polling service like EasyPolls, or check out quiz management sites like ProProfs and Quibblo.

  8. Add a Wii Fit to your employee lounge or fitness room, and reward employees for signing up for a required number of play sessions each month, or replace one regular, weekly meeting each month with a surprise “Wii Fit Tournament.”

    RELATED: Do you Have a Stealth Plan for Corporate Wellness? 

  9. Resurrect an oldie-but-goodie – the Table Tennis Tournament. Offer prizes for winning teams.  And make it even more official by using online tournament tools like PongUp!, Konkuri or Rankade.

A Few Final Game Rules

Before beginning any wellness initiative, HR professionals must know their employee demographics inside and out, the health challenges they face, and the programs they have an interest in.   Provided the initiative meets what Brian Burke, Research Vice President at Gartner, Inc., calls “M3: Motivation, Momentum and Meaning,” your chances for a successful wellness program are strong.   

And never underestimate the power of the incentive - throughout all stages of a wellness program.  A recent study from Virgin Pulse and Workforce magazine reminds us how important it is to reward participants - repeatedly.  78% of the 10,000+ respondents in their study said that incentives are important when it comes to wellness program participation - with 61% expressing they are the key reason to participate. 

Gamification of nearly every aspect of our workplace is predicted to grow rapidly in the coming years.  And HR is uniquely positioned in this equation to not only play a key role, but to be part the starting line-up.  Whether it’s a simple office challenge with a fun participation prize, ongoing incentives for online learning, or a large-scale digital wellness platform, now’s the time to join in, discover what works for your organization, and help write the rules of the game that will shape the future.

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Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan

As Director, Sales and Marketing at, Heidi is responsible for developing innovative, results-driven programs for Care@Work – a consumer-centered portfolio of family care for employers and their diverse workforce. Passionate about helping HR professionals improve the lives of their employees, Heidi follows and writes about the top trends and research impacting both employees and employers in the workplace, including the future of work, consumerism and HR, building employer brands, pay equity and paid leave policy, and company culture. Prior to joining, Heidi led marketing teams at a variety of technology companies including Constant Contact. She lives north of Boston with her husband Brian and their “daughter” Lexi – a 10 lb. Shih-Tzu therapy dog.