Each year, the Silver Spring-based company holds a voluntary, 16-week competition in which participants divide into teams and vie to walk the most steps. They use an online platform called Global Corporate Challenge to log their progress and compare it to their rivals’ numbers. If competitors do other workouts, such as swimming or biking, the system will calculate how many steps those activities are worth.
Alvarez, a service desk analyst, said he quickly found the format to be highly motivating.
“There’s sort of like a peer pressure and a competitive edge to it,” Alvarez said.
Discovery is one of an increasing number of companies that are turning to competitions and socially-based activities as a way to compel their workers to get fit, a trend that has been facilitated by a burst of online platforms that make it easy to track one’s performance and see how it stacks up against a co-worker’s.
This approach, often called the “gamification” of wellness, has become a central component of many corporate wellness strategies and marks yet another attempt to curb employers’ rising health care costs.
Discovery’s most recent challenge drew 369 teams comprised of nearly 2,600 workers, according to Adria Alpert Romm, the company’s senior executive vice president of human resources.
Throughout the program, the cable television programming giant tried to keep the competitive spirit running high by providing employees with teasing, pre-written e-cards that they could send one other.
“16 weeks too much of a commitment? What are you, a Kardashian?” one such e-mail chided.
The company said participants lost an average of eight pounds each.
Now, about five months after the challenge has ended, Alvarez continues to attend the boot camp-style fitness classes at Discovery that he started as part of the competition.
He’s so committed to the classes, he says, “I’ve had to push my wife’s birthday [celebration] to another day or later in the evening, because it’s that important.”
Last Wednesday, he and his colleagues braved the cold evening air and gusty wind for an hour of running, weight lifting, abdominal exercises and stretching. Alvarez said the teacher’s military-esque toughness doesn’t leave much room for slacking off.
“It isn’t something that you dread. I look forward to it because the guy keeps you motivated,” Alvarez said.
His legs were sore by Thursday afternoon—most likely, Alvarez said, from 50 repetitions of squat thrusts—but that won’t stop him from going back to class this week.
To date, Alvarez has lost 42 pounds and says his cholesterol has dropped significantly. His employer’s wellness competition, he said, was the “perfect launching pad” for his transformation.