SAN FRANCISCO—It’s time for employees to get off their duff. Today’s workforce faces a number of health challenges, with issues such as chronic disease and work-related stress topping the list, according to the CDC Foundation, a nonprofit established by Congress to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These issues have the potential to impact an employer’s medical costs and staff productivity.
Hoteliers have a prime opportunity to positively influence an associate’s health in myriad ways, namely through wellness challenges at work. The trick is to make it fun, accessible, goal-oriented and rewarding.
At the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, managers sought out a fun activity to get their 400-person team moving and engaging in healthy habits. Through web-based wellness platform Count.It, the hotel started a fitness challenge that became very popular and their efforts even galvanized other Hyatt properties to get involved, too.
“We heard that many of our colleagues at Hyatt Regency San Francisco were interested in a fun summer fitness challenge. We looked at lots of options, but most were cost prohibitive,” said Emma MacStay, colleague experience director, Hyatt Regency San Francisco. “We liked Count.It because it allowed many different [fitness tracking]devices to be used to participate, so colleagues could use existing devices that they already owned or even use an app on their phone for free.”
First, they started with a team challenge at the property: which team could garner the most steps in a one-month period of time. Employees responded with enthusiasm and many purchased or borrowed a counting device to be able to participate in the challenge, explained MacStay.
“Colleagues challenged each other to do better and had friendly competition among themselves. We posted our scores on Facebook’s private group so everyone could keep track of the competition,” she said. “The program was so popular that we challenged our Bay Area sister properties—Grand Hyatt San Francisco and Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport—to take on our hotel’s team. Several hundred employees across the city participated.”
Count.It originally began as a blog covering all things fitness culture—think spinning, CrossFit and AcroYoga—and it also organized challenges for its readers, allowing people to track their progress on the website. However, Count.It soon realized that corporate wellness was where it wanted to direct its focus and altered its business strategy.
“Everyone loved it. We even had one couple meet through the site and get married,” said Oliver Ryan, CEO of Count.It, based in New York. “Over time, we began to focus entirely on the fitness challenges and dropped the blogging. Eventually, we added support for fitness trackers and shifted our focus from consumer challenges to corporate wellness. Turns out co-workers are a natural community, and bosses are eager to do things to help energize office culture and to encourage everyone to be a bit more healthy. Consumers are pretty well served by their personal apps, but that software doesn’t work for company challenges, and so that’s where we come in.”
Here’s how the platform works: Any company can create a group on the website in less than two minutes, according to Ryan, and then co-workers can join the group. The individual connects one or more fitness tracking devices or apps, and can see how active they are compared to a teammate.
“You actually don’t even need a wearable device. There are some great, free fitness tracking apps that run on any iPhone or Android device,” he said. “The system is simple, but powerful. The group administrator can create a range of challenges with rewards. There are individual, team and whole group challenges for a range of different metrics, and we automate the delivery of rewards from a growing list of vendors, including Amazon, Whole Foods Market, Starbucks and many more. The system is quickly becoming a sort of healthy culture app for the workplace.”
The challenges can be social and competitive, or the goals can be personal. Count.It’s team also built apps within group messaging platforms such as Slack and Hipchat.
So, just how did Hyatt employees apply fitness challenges via Count.It in a hospitality setting? Ryan observed that hotels are a great environment for an activity challenge because of the variety of jobs being done and often big, open spaces in which people can move around.
“At all the Bay Area Hyatts, people in the challenge began to avoid the elevators and moved around their hotels via stairs. They also formed lunchtime walking groups, and some began training together for a marathon. It’s nice to do something in which everyone can participate, even across very diverse departments,” he said. “Suddenly you have housekeeping battling reception or the front office—and winning. We also discovered that the person who walks the most at a big city hotel is the guy delivering fresh coffee to all the conference rooms.”
It’s not just about health, noted Ryan. It’s about being part of a larger, engaged community and feeling valued.
“Hospitality is the ultimate service business, and people have to be ‘on’ most of the time. It makes a measurable difference when everyone feels a part of a tight community, which is something Count.It works to create,” he said. “Also, it makes a difference when co-workers feel that their managers care about them. Running a wellness challenge is an affordable, fun way to bring people together and improve everyone’s health along the way.”