Simple incentive gets workers up and walking

Pedometer spurs participation in walking program

Not all incentives have to come in the form of large checks or expensive prizes to be effective. Just ask the folks at Comprehensive Health Services (CHS). With a simple, inexpensive device and a basic team competition, they have gotten thousands of employees to participate in a walking program.

Inspired by the nationwide "10K-A-Day" walking program, the fitness director at the Tucson office of one of CHS’ client companies, a major manufacturing firm, devised a program that involved giving each participant a pedometer to measure his or her daily progress. "He developed the program and brought it to company’s wellness council last summer," recalls Karen Eray, RN, COHN-S/CM, CHS’ unit manager in Tucson, AZ. "We liked it because it gave employees a reason to get out and walk, either as individuals or as part of a team."

Walking cross-country

Basically, the program involved an imaginary walk across the country to visit different corporate sites. The trek begins in El Segundo, CA, and takes walkers to seven or eight other stops before ending at corporate headquarters in Lexington, MA.

Employees were told about the program through the company’s weekly newsletter, e-mails, their web site and information posters. They could participate as individuals or create teams of up to eight people. "Since individuals could not travel as far as a team they got bonus miles when they hit certain milestones," says Eray. "Everybody was issued a pedometer for free, and then kept track of their own mileage and entered it into a log."

There are about 12,000 employees at the worksite, and "I heard there were about 3,000 who took part," says Jennifer J. Lim, RN, MSN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, national manager/health services for in CHS in Westminster, CO. "That’s a very high participation level."

Each time a participant walked the equivalent of miles between company locations, they received a small gift, such as a book mark or a pencil. "At the end, they got a pen that said, I made it to Lexington, Massachusetts,’" Eray explains.

"Even though these trinkets were not that valuable, they gave people motivation," says Eray. "You were especially motivated if you were a team member, because you did not want let your teammates down."

In addition, the built-in team structure support network led to a nonthreatening atmosphere, says Lim. "It’s hard sometimes to do behavior change all by yourself," she asserts.

Employees put the pedometers on when they woke up and took them off when they went to sleep, and all the steps taken during that time were counted and logged.

The benefits spread

News of the program has spread, and so have its benefits. "The corporation will now take it nationwide because it’s proven to be so successful," reports Lim.

Why has it been so successful? "In health and wellness programming, it’s hard to empower people if you don’t give them control," says Lim. "This was just one little device, but it put participants in control; that’s what I heard from people — that they could always know what their progress was."

"Also, when you wear it ever day, if you consistently walk and one day you forget the pedometer you can still judge your progress by how active you are," says Eray.

"Sometimes, you don’t realize you’ve walked as much as you did," adds Lim. "I’d walk through an airport to get my luggage, and the distance was much more than I thought."

Lim was so impressed she sent pedometers to all CHS managers. "I told them that if their clients were not currently involved in the program, that they should encourage them to participate," she notes. "And, for their own health and wellness, they should serve as role models."

She believes this program can serve as a springboard for other wellness initiatives. "From this, you can build additional participation," she asserts. "By the way, now that we have your attention, we’re going to be doing a cholesterol screening — and so on."

The program also has touched families, says Eray. "We all did it, our spouses did it, our kids did it. Some employees went and out and got extra pedometers on their own," she recalls. "I even had my mother-in-law do it!"

[For further information, contact:

Jennifer Lim, RN, MSN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, national manager/health services, CHS, 10869 Grove Court, Westminster, CO 80031. Telephone: (303) 916-2859.]