Healthy competition promotes healthier employees through Boston College’s Walk Across Campus (WAC) program. Employees ranging from professors, faculty, ministers, and nurses participated in the semester-long program, forming teams and counting their steps to victory.
The program is run through the Human Resources Department under the “Healthy You” initiative that provides employees with resources such as lectures on healthy eating, Weight Watchers meeting discounts, and cooking classes. With the program just finishing its third semester on Nov. 30, WAC has been the most widely attended and possibly most successful aspect of the Healthy You initiative.
“We had a team last semester too,” said Joanne Larosee, recruiting manager at the Career Center. “It actually got pretty competitive within the office.”
Each person who signs up for the program is outfitted with a Fitbit-a type of pedometer that records every step a person takes throughout the day. Employees are not only encouraged to walk but “work out, run, cycle, dance, or hike” their way to their daily, weekly, and semester-long goals, according to the WAC website.
“The goal or average number of steps a person should take each day is 10,000,” said Carole Flynn, recruiting program assistant and team member. “Sometimes that can be really hard to do, especially for someone in an office job.”
The Fitbits come in two different forms: one that attaches to the person’s shoe and another version, new for this semester, in bracelet form. The Fitbit comes with frequent emails about the goals the participants are meeting, the calories they have burned, and the “badges” they can earn. The website and emails can be supplemented with an app that provides the same information on the go.
“Just last week I got an email that I had walked over 300 miles,” Flynn said. “That was over the past year, of course.”
Even after the official competition between groups on campus is over, the participants can still keep their Fitbits and sign up for the program on an individual basis. Flynn explained that she continued her walking regimen over the summer.
“One of the things I really like about the program is that, although we are working as a team, it has helped me to improve on an individual level,” Larosee said. “The Fitbit monitors every step I take, so it just helps me stay aware of my activity level.” The team members attributed most of the success of the program to monitoring their daily steps and calories on the website.
Each group signs up through an online registry at the beginning of each semester, and one member of each group identifies as a team leader. Teams can consist of up to 20 employees, and the leader is expected to hold a weekly walk or other active event, according to the WAC website.
Additionally, the team leader is in charge of fostering a competitive spirit within the team. The team leader also has the responsibility of rewarding one member of his or her team with the most valuable player award at the end of each semester.
“[The team leader] gave me the award last year,” Flynn said. “Not because I had the most steps, but because he could tell I was putting in the most effort.”
Although employees work together as a team, a lot of the competition can occur within the group. Weekly step count postings allow employees on the same team to battle for the top spot.
Many employees say the competitve spirit is the main motivating component in their decision to be a part of the program each senester.
“I would see that the person ahead of me was only beating me by 300 steps and that would encourage me to go out for a short walk,” Flynn said.
“It can get pretty funny,” Larosee said. “People sometimes walk up to the second floor of the office to fill up their water bottles or go to the bathroom just to get the extra steps because stairscases count as double.”
Bonus points could be earned by performing certain activities around campus Larosee said. “Walking up the million-dollar staircase is triple points on our BC Fitbits,” she said.
WAC is not unique to BC, however-similar programs are implemented at many workplaces from insurance companies to law firms.
“Really, the point of the program is to make employees healthier to cut back on healthcare costs since most employees’ healthcare policies come through the University,” Larosee said.
BC employees are rewarded with recognition for the most steps and a small prize or trophy at the end of each semester. Winning teams are also recognized.
Additionally, rankings from past semesters remain on the WAC website in order to keep the competitive spirit alive from semester to semester. Other companies, however, provide more incentive to keep walking.
“One of my friends in Maine had a program like this at her workplace,” Flynn said. “The winner got a trip for two to Hawaii, so there was a little bit more incentive. Most of us are just doing it as a social way to stay active.”
The team members also explained that the program changed many peoples’ attitudes toward exercise and dieting. “I think a lot of people realized exercise doesn’t have to be a brutal gym visit,” Larosee said. “Simply walking around campus can improve your health.”
Not only does the program unite different offices and departments-it unites BC employees throughout campus that may have never met otherwise. Everyone from professors to nurses to maintenence employees participate in the program.
“The winner last year was a groundskeeper on Newton Campus,” Flynn said. “Because he was active all day in his job, he probably gained more steps than all of us in office jobs.”
At the beginning of each semester a kick-off walk open to all employees serves as motivation to get started and meet other employees in the program.
Then at the end of the term, an award ceremony brings participants together to celebrate both individual and team accomplishments.
“Last year the ceremony was on a rainy spring day, but there was still a huge turn out,” Flynn said. “It really shows how committed employees are to the program, and how supportive other employees can be.”
“I’ll definitely keep doing the program as long as they offer it-which I think will be for a long time,” Larosee said.