by David Hughes
This summer, we had around 50 employees participate in our very first BCER Engineering Step Challenge. This 6-week odyssey was an incredible journey for many of us, as we “stepped up” to encourage our teammates and challenge our competitors to push ourselves to burn more calories in the name of “wellness.” Our challenge, like most corporate challenges, was primarily set up as a supplement to our overall wellness objectives and encouraged by our health insurance provider.
Any time a company promotes a “challenge” to meet “wellness” objectives, there can be a bit of skepticism. Some viewed the challenge as an unnecessary distraction from “real” work, an excuse for others to be less focused on projects and due dates. Some viewed it as an opportunity for that cult crowd of people that get up and work out at 4:30 am, long before most “normal” people dream of getting up, to brag about their calories burned and VO2 max before they get their morning coffee. As our challenge unfolded though, something different developed.
Almost a hundred years ago, in 1921, Dr. Lewis Terman started a study of approximately 1500 boys and girls to determine the sources of intellectual leadership. Dr. Terman’s study followed the entire lives of these boys and girls, and the data on the lives of these people has been studied in meticulous detail, including how they died. In the book The Longevity Project, Drs. Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin describe their findings from the Terman study as such: “Surprisingly, the long-lived among them did not find the secret to health in broccoli, medical tests, vitamins, or jogging. Rather they were individuals with certain constellations of habits and patterns of living.” They go on to say that “the lives of the Terman participants showed that taking time to cultivate social networks is important not just to the quality of life but also to its quantity. Feeling good, staying calm, and breathing deeply can be signs of health but they are not its roots causes. Instead, social relations should be the first place to look for improving health and longevity.” This revelation, concerning the importance on social relations to health and longevity, is really the secret to our success of our step challenge.
In the first two weeks of our step challenge, we were teamed with four other people, resulting in eleven teams of five that stepped a total of 8,406,304 steps, averaging almost 11,000 steps per day per person. A worthy achievement by any wellness standard, but this first two weeks was when the beauty of the challenge really started to shine. People were randomly teamed up with each other, and with people spread between four offices in two states, the real challenge was to work together as a team to achieve your goals, with some teammates 2000 miles away! People who may not have worked together before were now talking daily to encourage each other to get their steps in. People who were in the same offices would often take the time during the day to walk the paths and trails together around our offices to get their steps in and, more importantly, to create and establish new bonds and strengthen relationships. The camaraderie developed during the first two weeks of our step challenge really carried over for the remaining four weeks, and the social interaction had an overall positive effect on our daily work environment and a healthy outcome of the challenge that contributed to an already vibrant culture.
Yes, we started our step challenge as a “wellness” objective, and what we got was not only a healthier work environment, but healthier social relations and collaboration, that, in the long run, will be better for all of us. As an owner and president of a company, I can unequivocally say that truly engaging in a challenge like ours is rewarding on a company level and a personal level. The key is to “truly engage” in the challenge, with the teams, and with the people that surround you daily to make your company great, and you too will have a healthier work environment and a better company.