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Well Being

How To Host A Successful And Inclusive Workplace Step Challenge

Rebecca Noori
Last Updated January 11, 2024

How many steps have you walked so far today?

In 1964, a Japanese company invented a device that would make future generations obsess over this all-important question. Yamasa developed its pedometer in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics; they named it "Manpo-kei," which translates to "10,000-step meter." This was the number of steps a person should walk daily to improve their wellness.

This magic number wasn't rooted in science or medicine at the time. It was merely a marketing tactic, as the Japanese character for the number 10,000 resembles a person walking. Sixty years later, walking 10,000 steps is often lauded as an accessible way for busy individuals to fit physical activity into their working day. Recent research suggests that this once arbitrary number may be associated with some concrete health benefits, such as lowering the risk of dementia by 50%.

Our guide shows employers how to set up a motivating workplace step challenge that enables team members to enjoy physical and mental benefits like these. We also discuss how to make your step challenge fully inclusive for employees with a different activity goal in mind.

What Is A Step Challenge? 

A step challenge is a fun and interactive way to promote physical activity in the workplace. It involves setting a goal for employees to reach a certain number of steps within a specified period; for example, X steps a day for one week, month, or quarter.

Employees can take part in this office step challenge individually or in teams. Often, they’ll receive rewards once they’ve completed it. 

Example step challenge: Walk 10,000 steps a day to earn 10 points, redeemable for a selection of rewards.

Why Run A Step Challenge At Work?

When our workers feel physically and mentally sound, this produces multiple positive workforce-related outcomes. Here are the employee health benefits you can expect when you run a steps challenge at work.

Short And Long-Term Improvements In Physical Activity

For some people, research suggests that corporate step challenges can lead to short-term and long-term increases in physical activity. Once your employees build positive habits in their lives, they'll be more likely to keep up the good work. Some employees might move on to take part in a half marathon, while others might join a local sports team.


Reduced Risk Of Mental Health Conditions

Frequent physical movement isn't just good for the body; it's also great for our mental health. A "Happy Feet" study published in BMC Psychiatry found that people who committed to a 100-day, 10,000-step program reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress while boosting their overall wellbeing. Interestingly, the study proved that participants experienced the mental health benefits consistently, even if they didn't always meet their daily steps target.

Lower Risk Of Premature Death

Perhaps the most significant reason to participate in a step challenge is to improve longevity. A study published by the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal indicates a link between accumulating steps up to 10,000 per day and declining mortality risks and mortality rates.

Boost In Workplace Productivity 

When employees feel physically and mentally healthy, they're more likely to hit their peak performance at work. A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that workplace step count challenges positively impacted employees' stress and productivity levels. Organizations can expect their step-counting employees to deliver excellent results without the risk of burnout.

Enhanced Innovation And Creativity 

Walking increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates the body's central nervous system. Along with reducing the incidence of mental health conditions, a report entitled "Give Your Ideas Some Legs" suggests that this regular movement can also improve mental clarity and the creative flow of ideas.

The benefits of running a step challenge at work

How Can Companies Create An Inclusive Walking Steps Challenge? 

A step challenge is often touted as a simple activity that anyone can participate in. But of course, not everyone feels comfortable or is physically able to walk 10,000 steps per day, making your fitness challenge non-inclusive for some of the following: 

  • Employees with physical disabilities 
  • Employees with chronic conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia 
  • Employees who are pregnant 
  • Employees who don't feel safe walking alone in their local neighborhood 
  • Employees with different body shapes

The great thing about step challenges is that you can customize them to include everyone in your workplace. Consider some of the following ways to tailor yours so no employee feels left on the sidelines.

Personalize The Steps Goal

If the 10,000-step target is out of reach for some of your employees based on their fitness levels and abilities, consider allowing individuals to set their own target. For example, 57-year-old Bill is returning to fitness after a knee operation and wants to aim for a daily 3,000-step goal instead.

Convert Equivalent Activities 

If an employee is unable to walk, they can convert their physical activity from swimming, cycling, wheelchair sports, or even yoga into steps. For example, you can create a conversion formula that estimates the number of steps they would have taken if they were moving on foot, based on active minutes. For example:

  • 30 minutes of water aerobics could equal 3,000 steps
  • 30 minutes of weight training could equal 6.000 steps 
  • 60 minutes of swimming could equal 7,200 steps

Adopt Flexible Time Frames 

If short and intensive challenges feel daunting, consider offering employees a more flexible time frame to reach their health goals, such as a month-long challenge instead of a week-long one.

For example, working mom Joan finds it challenging to commit to a 10,000-step daily routine on top of her job and looking after her four young children. Although she can’t manage the total steps seven days a week, she can fit in the 10,000 steps goal three days a week for a month, which matches her schedule and energy levels.

Use Inclusive Communication

Inclusivity doesn't just apply to the activity itself; it's also relevant to how employers communicate the challenge to their employees.

Avoid using ableist language or assumptions about people's abilities. Instead, emphasize that the goal is to promote physical activity and improve overall wellbeing rather than solely achieving a specific number of steps. Ensure that tracking devices are available and accessible to everyone, for example, by switching on screen readers or voice command features.

How companies can create an inclusive walking steps challenge

12 Best Practices For Running A Workplace Step Challenge

Workplace step challenges can be fun, refreshing, and highly motivating when executed correctly. Follow these best practices to ensure you start on the right foot.

1. Customize The Step Challenge

Personalizing the steps goal, frequency, or length of the challenge are just some of the adjustments you can make to ensure inclusivity. But you can make many other tweaks to the standard model so it fits your team members and their fitness goals. In this example, Joe Salmon, Director of Communication Business Partnerships for Iron Mountain, completes his 10,000 steps before 10 am. If any of your employees would like to follow Joe's lead, consider offering bonus points on top of your regular step competition.

Some of your team may prefer to tackle their step challenge in the morning.

Another easy adjustment is to offer step challenge levels, where participants choose the category that best suits their abilities, schedule, and personal goals. Al Rayana Charter School offers a three-category challenge where participants can aim for 35,000, 50,000, or 75,000 steps spread across a week.

Customize your step challenge by adding different categories based on ability, schedule, and goals.

2. Include Your Remote Teams 

Steps challenges are the perfect way to unite all your distributed team members while working toward a common goal. 

Financial services company Klar describes, “All month long, Klar hosted a step challenge for our team members all over the world. We had 5 teams, comprised of people in different locations, different departments, and seniority levels—and what a success it was! Our top team made a total of 4.9 million steps and an average of 330,000+ steps per person—an incredible accomplishment in only 30 days. A great example of engaging our remote teams and of our value of excellence—always committing to going above and beyond our own expectations.” 

To set up something similar for your remote teams, you might create a social feed where challenge participants share their progress, wins, or tips for overcoming common problems. Employees could discuss anything from recommended footwear, how to treat blisters, or the best times of day to get their steps in.

3. Embrace The Seasons 

There's no right or wrong time of year to launch a steps challenge. But you can encourage participation by using the seasons as an extra incentive to get moving. Of course, the New Year is an excellent opportunity to blow off the cobwebs and commit to positive habits, as demonstrated by construction company Woodley Coles LLP, who says:

“Hello 2024! The Woodley Coles LLP team are back from a refreshing festive break and wish all our clients , staff and collaborators a very Happy New Year. We’re excited to be taking part in the Discovery Park January 10,000 Steps Challenge to kick off the new year, encouraging us to get out in the fresh January air and prioritize our mental health and wellbeing.”

Woodley Coles LLP begins the new year with a step challenge

At the opposite end of the year, some companies embrace the transition from summer to fall as a chance to stretch their legs and get in touch with nature. This time of year is important for anyone with seasonal affective disorder who may be struggling with reduced sunlight and lower levels of serotonin. Having an excuse to get outdoors and lap up the waning daylight hours can work wonders. Mental Health Trainer Kerry Tonks describes why her company committed to a fall challenge. 

“We at Simpila Mental Health are encouraging everyone to take part in the challenge to walk 12,000 steps a day to get fit and healthy in the winter months but also to raise some money for the Mental Health Foundation.
As the dark nights and short days are now well and truly here, this challenge is designed to get you moving and feeling physically and mentally healthy. Exercising outdoors in nature can help to prevent or reduce feelings of anger, tiredness, and sadness."

4. Incorporate Movement Throughout Your Company Culture

As with any healthy workplace initiative, demonstrating buy-in from the top encourages high participation rates throughout the rest of your workforce. Not only should managers sling on their own walking boots and join in, but organizations can also find extra ways to embed regular movement into the workplace culture. By doing so, employees can gain their steps throughout the working day rather than facing the burden of figuring it out after hours. Some simple changes might include:

  • Kitting offices out with standing desks 
  • Encouraging regular movement breaks 
  • Hosting walking meetings 
  • Organizing team walks 
  • Setting up movement nudges in Slack channels  

Jen Southan, People and Culture Business Partner, highlights that ORIX New Zealand is a shining example of a company that does this well. 

"Recently, a large number of our ORIX NZ nationwide team took part in a month-long step challenge. Together, we completed over 14 million steps and collectively walked to ORIX Global HQ in Japan. We transitioned to walking meetings, walking to work, lunchtime walks around the block, and nighttime neighborhood strolls. Our team headed out in the weekends with their families and walked to get their lunch rather than driving.
From a People initiative perspective, wellbeing doesn't always have to be serious, or cost lots of money, or just be there to tick a box. Wellbeing showed up as something that our people grabbed on to, bringing people together across our organization and has driven positive outcomes in health (physical and mental), engagement and belonging. A great outcome!"

5. Encourage Your Employees To Link Their Challenge To Good Causes 

Add an extra layer of motivation to your program by encouraging employees to use their steps program to raise awareness of causes close to their hearts. For example, your workers might start a GoFundMe and ask friends and family members to sponsor their commitment to the challenge. Or they might post about their achievement on social media and ask for donations for a charity of their choice. 

DHL Supply Chain Stock Controller Cate Sewell posted an emotional update on LinkedIn to announce her participation in the Miscarriage Association's 250,000-step challenge:

For the 3rd year running, I will be taking part in the Step Up Challenge. To honor the three babies we’ve lost and to help raise support for this charity.”

Gather charity donations is a great way to make your step challenges more meaningful.

Nectar Tip: As another way to give back, Nectar allows participants to redeem their challenge completion points for charity donations.

6. Encourage Participants To Share Their Challenge Progress 

Employees who post about their workplace challenges online gain motivation and support while activating accountability. Share progress on social media and encourage others to do the same by using dedicated hashtags or posting on a specific schedule.

For example, Compliance Assistant Brittany Stevens used LinkedIn to post a fantastic shot of her hike through Snowdon as part of her Steptember challenge, with a beautiful rainbow in the background. 

Does your team want to share their progress with others? Encourage them to share their step challenge online.

7. Make Your Step Challenge A Team Activity  

Steps challenges are an important way for individuals to commit to a physical activity and meet their personal wellness goals. However, making steps challenges a team initiative makes it easy for every participant to feel part of something bigger than their own individual pursuit. Coming together can establish team bonding and camaraderie across your workforce.

For example, you might aim for a collective team target of 500,000 steps by the end of January, or 1,000,000 steps by the end of Q1 (all dependent on the size of your team.)

Online Coach Will Longbottom demonstrates the impact of team steps challenges by highlighting the achievement of his community during the first three weeks of December. He explains, 

“At the start of December, we set out a step challenge for our amazing community. We split the community into groups and it was their aim to complete as many steps as possible from December 1st to 21st, 2023. They combined a total of 6,397,342 steps between them. We set out a prize for the individual who got the most out of the competition and that was Kerri who got a total of 387,675 steps.”

An example of how team step challenges can make things more interesting.

8. Make Your Step Challenge Fun 

Let's be honest for a minute. Walking challenges can be invigorating, especially at first when there's novelty value in clocking up those daily steps. But sooner or later, there comes a point where it's raining, or you're tired, or you'd rather stay in and watch Netflix than head outside again to trudge around the park. That's where it's important to keep your employee step challenges fun and enticing. Customer Service Specialist Andrew Weybury offers some experience in how to keep everyone entertained over the long haul: 

"Where I am volunteering, we are doing a 6-week step challenge, filled with walking, Spotify playlists, competitive teams, fun games, a weekly theme including RUOK Day, AFL Grand Final, scavenger hunt and a trivia night. Lots of fun while working on all staff wellbeing, mental, physical, emotional, and social."

9. Offer Workarounds For Employees Who Struggle To Get Their Steps In 

If you notice a drop in participation or employees actively moan that they can't find the time to dedicate to your challenge, help them stay on track. You might suggest workarounds such as:

  • Stepping on the spot while watching TV 
  • Remembering to wear their fitness tracker throughout the day 
  • Walking on the spot while queuing at the store or waiting at the bus stop 
  • Using the stairs instead of the elevator at work 
  • Taking a walk break during lunch or breaks at work 
  • Holding walking meetings with colleagues instead of sitting in a boardroom. 

Associate Director Claire Stephens has overcome some of the natural obstacles of a steps challenge by walking at home. She explains:

“300 (+) days in and I’m still going strong with my 10,000 steps challenge I have set myself since joining Jacobs. I can’t say every day has been easy, especially with the recent weather and lack of light evening. But I’ve done it, although I may have worn my carpet out a little too. Only a couple more months until I reach a year.”

When the weather is bad, step challenges might fall to the wayside. Here's how one person kept it up over 300 days even as the weather changed.

10. Celebrate The Achievement 

Ten thousand steps a day, or any other personalized target is worth celebrating, especially when you think about the distance someone has walked to achieve their goal. Unlike Forrest Gump, who famously ran in a straight line from ocean to ocean, many of us gradually take our steps over the course of a day or week, and we never really consider how far we've traveled during that time. 

But Motion Project Management recently did the math on their teams' collective steps effort to illustrate and celebrate the impressive distance walked:  

"A couple of months ago we embarked upon a Steps challenge to get our team moving and feeling good, come (a lot of) rain or shine! So far, the team has collectively taken an incredible 3.5 million steps, which is the same distance it takes to walk from London to Athens! Yamas everyone, here's to the next 3.5 million!!"

11. Tie Tangible Rewards To Your Step Challenge

Every employee has personal reasons for taking part in a steps challenge. They may want to drop a dress size, lower their blood pressure, or get outside more. Employers can help them achieve these goals by tying tangible rewards to their step challenge. For example, they might promise a cash bonus, an extra day of PTO, or some company swag once they’ve completed their goal.

In Accounts Development Representative Sarah Johnson’s case, she received the gift of an Apple Watch for completing her challenge. She describes how this experience has shaped her view of her employer. 

“IFS North America recently hosted a step challenge for employees. I decided to partake and ended up walking 301,348 steps in two weeks, ranking first! Feeling appreciative to work for a company that prioritizes health and wellness. This was very personally rewarding; I got a package in the mail. Thanks, IFS!”

An example of a reward employees can get for completing a step challenge

Nectar Tip: If you use a tool like Nectar, employees will have access to get the rewards they like. No more guessing games!

12. Gather Employee Feedback 

Once your workplace step challenge is underway, gather employee feedback on their overall experience. This will allow you to pinpoint what worked well and how to make improvements for next time. You can do this through: 

  • Sending out regular employee surveys 
  • Holding informal conversations with participants
  • Tracking challenge participation and completion rates 

Be sure to consider their suggestions and make any necessary changes to continually improve the challenge for future participants.

How To Run A Step Challenge With Nectar

While you could set up a manual step challenge using a mix of spreadsheets, Slack channels, and email messages, using a dedicated platform saves time and resources. Nectar's Challenges feature is designed to help companies promote and incentivize healthier habits and behaviors to enhance their wellbeing. Employees complete their challenge and receive points, which they can redeem using our Rewards tool.

Here’s an overview of how companies like Academic Partnerships use our Challenges feature as part of their employee wellness program. It’s important to note that this is a fully customizable feature that leaders can tweak according to their preferences. 

  1. Employers design a step challenge for every team member to participate in as they wish. They set a number of Nectar points for every wellness challenge; typically, this is between 5-25 points. 
  2. Companies can limit how often their employees can redeem points to keep track of their budget. For example, they might set a challenge to expire after a month or quarter. 
  3. Employees must provide proof that they have completed the challenge. For example, they could upload a screenshot of their fitness tracking app showing the date and number of steps. 
  4. Employers choose who can approve the challenge completion, such as an administrator or a manager. For ease, it's also possible to auto-approve challenges and review an audit log to perform spot checks as needed. 
  5. Once approved, the employee receives points in their Nectar account, which they can redeem for a wide range of rewards, such as Amazon products, charity donations, company swag, custom rewards, and gift cards. 

If you prefer a team step challenge, an alternative is to award a small number of Nectar points for every employee who completes the challenge. After a bit of calculation and tallying the entries, the person who completes the most steps would receive a larger sum of points using our Custom Award feature.

How to run a step challenge inside Nectar

Take Your First Step Toward A Healthy And Engaged Workforce

Your journey to a healthier and more engaged workforce is just a few steps away. A workplace step challenge promotes physical wellbeing and instills a sense of camaraderie among colleagues as they progress toward their goals.

Nectar's suite of tools is carefully designed with a supportive work environment in mind, offering a seamless and convenient way to incorporate employee wellness initiatives into your company culture. With customizable challenges and rewards, Nectar empowers employers to create a positive and motivating work environment that promotes healthy employee habits. 

Sign up for a Nectar demo today and kickstart your journey towards a more energetic, motivated, and productive workforce.

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