by Lisa Rousseau | November 11, 2011
Disengaged workers can cost U.S. businesses a whopping $350 billion a year as research shows. With this type of loss, it is critical to find ways to generate and sustain employee engagement. One proven and effective way to get your employees back in the game is to offer a walking program in your corporate wellness offerings. 

Such programs can significantly impact employee engagement. Barriers to employee engagement include trust, time, money, convenience, and stress, and nothing shakes these barriers and improves your bottom line more than something as simple as walking. A well-designed walking program shows your employees that you value them, plus it provides them with the tools and incentives to get healthier. Studies show that for every dollar spent on preventive care, employers can expect a $3 return. Below are some tips on how to engage employees and build ROI.

1. Build it, and they will walk. Work within your office environment. Map out routes indoors and outdoors. Make getting up to take walks at breaks and lunchtime part of your corporate culture. Use signage on elevators encouraging staff to take the stairs.

2. Know your numbers. Knowing your employees’ health risk assessments and biometric data before starting the program makes it easier to calculate your ROI. Employees will have a stronger sense of cause and effect when they see their physical results improve after participating in a walking program. This not only motivates employees to participate, but it also provides them the information they need to get healthy.

3. Bring it online. No one has the time or desire to manually track data. A USB pedometer provides automated uploading, with no need to self-track or manually add numbers. Online websites that allow easy communication with and among employees, as well as provide real-time data, are far more motivating than static data. Validated data will give your employees confidence that incentives are fairly distributed.

4. Secure top-level support. Programs that have management buy-in and direct involvement have higher engagement, as they set the standard for program expectations. Walking teams with support from management can foster team cooperation beyond the walking challenge.

5. Offer variety for increased participation. Everyone may want to walk, but one single environment may not work for everyone. Some people are competitive, while others are social or collaborative. Structure walking programs and challenges to meet the needs of all your employees.

6. Offer short- and long-term goals. Keep the program interesting, exciting, and purposeful. Set goals with incentives that are manageable. Structure challenges with short-term goals that act as breadcrumbs to guide participants in reaching the challenge’s long-term goal.

7. Link walking and rewards. Find ways to work your existing rewards and incentives into the walking program. If your employees already earn points or dollars towards their health savings accounts or premium reductions in other ways, walking step-counts can be used toward them, too.

8. Match the reward to the walk. No one wants to walk a marathon for a $10 gift card. Behavioral economic research shows that the attraction of the chance of winning a big prize, such as a dream vacation, effectively motivates employees. For example, all participants who walk one million steps in six months earn a raffle ticket for the grand prize.

9. Share success with all. Recognize winners, achievers, and goal-milestones as they happen. Include achievers’ names and quotes in your company newsletter and company social media. Also consider separate walking-program communications, as it emphasizes its importance to the company culture. Be creative in sharing success, such as posting leader boards in public areas.

10. Most of all, make it fun! Corporate walking programs have the highest participation and engagement statistics among wellness programs. Taking steps to engage your employees in a competition or incentive program pays off in more ways than one. Not only will their health improve, but so will morale.

Lisa Rousseau is co-founder and vice president of member engagement at Walkingspree, a specialized wellness provider delivering walking programs for health insurers and corporate clients. Based on USB pedometers that track validated steps, as well as active social media networks and interactive food and body trackers, these programs typically deliver more than 50 percent employee participation and consistent year-over-year member retention. Results are healthier employees and a positive return on investment for clients.