‘Values Game’ adds fun to wellness efforts

Employee creativity encouraged in goal-setting

Are your employees complaining that they’re "tired of the same old programs?" Next time boredom threatens to set in, liven things up with a round of the "Values Game."

This innovative incentive program used at Transitions for Health, a Portland, OR-based manufacturer of natural health products, allows employees to choose and pursue their own personal wellness goals. It also encourages teamwork; 80% of the 40 employees must be successful in achieving their goals in order for the participants to receive a reward.

The program affords the employees virtually unlimited creativity in deciding what qualifies as a wellness goal. For example, one employee chose to read more nonfiction, while another committed to getting seven hours of sleep each night.

The program is not without structure or purpose, however. Each round of the game addresses one of the company’s established values:

• open communication;

• employee involvement;

• learning and renewal;

• valued diversity;

• institutional fairness;

• equitable rewards and recognition;

• health enhancing work environments;

• meaningful work;

• family/work/life balance;

• community responsibility;

• environmental protection.

Two rounds of the game have been played so far. The first, launched in January 1996, centered around health enhancing work environments. The second, which began in June, focused on community responsibility.

Group meetings launch each round

The program centers around regularly held group meetings. Every Tuesday, all the employees meet in a forum to discuss important issues affecting the company. There the foundation is laid for each round of the game. "It’s a great opportunity to share and discuss," says Ellen Markham, customer service representative. "Collectively, we decide which value we will do next."

During these meetings, employees also announce what their goals will be, and the more creative proposals are sometimes met with good-natured ribbing.

"I was known as the ‘M & M’ madam because I ate them all the time," recalls Deborah Field, accounting manager. "I was not only making myself fat but others, too!"

So her goal in the first game was to give up M&Ms. However, some people didn’t think her goal was appropriate. Despite the criticism, Field "just held firm," and her goal was accepted.

She does not regret her decision at all. "My goal was to give them up — and I did! To this day, I do not have them on my desk. Today, I have an apple on it instead."

Wellness professionals know that incentives never hurt participation, so employees who successfully complete the game are offered a $50 gift certificate for a choice of books, yoga lessons, natural foods, or other healthy purchases.

However, a sense of camaraderie and group support is an even stronger motivator, says Markham.

Employees recorded their progress on a chart posted in the cafeteria, she explains, and each week they would meet to share their experiences. "It’s really nice to see everyone was making a conscious effort," she says. "It’s great to get support from everyone. If you did well, people would say, ‘Yeah, right on.’ If you hadn’t done so well, they would say, ‘That’s OK, you’ll catch up next week."

The second game, says Markham, not only made her feel good about herself, but also made her aware of service opportunities she never knew existed. "There are so many different things to do [to serve the community,]" she observes. "It really opened up our eyes. Some people volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. My Taiko [Asian-American drumming] group gave a demonstration to children at the Japanese Gardens. This enabled me to both meet my goals for community service and also continue with the mission and values of my group."

Working at a company like Transitions, says Markham, has benefits beyond the workplace. "It makes you so aware of a healthy lifestyle that you can’t help but bring it home with you," she explains. "And when we play the game, it’s just a wonderful way of becoming even more aware."

[Editor’s note: For more information on the Values Game, contact: Laura Verboort, Transitions For Health, 621 SW Adler, Suite 900, Portland, OR 97205-3627. Telephone: (800) 888-6814. Fax: (800) 944-0168.]