Can gaming make employees healthier?
About 650 employees of Compass Minerals in Overland Park have spent the past six weeks finding out.
The workers — about a third of the company’s workforce — have been participating in a walking program linked to a story-based game called A Step Ahead: Alien Invasion. It’s an interactive Web-based game that is tailored for gamers and athletes alike.
The game was created by A Step Ahead, part of Fitness Interactive Experience.
“We come in and we get people excited about being active and healthy and engaged on what is more of an intersection between entertainment and health, as opposed to a traditional program,” said Mike Tinney, founder and chief executive of Fitness Interactive Experience.
The program started at Compass on June 8, the same day the company began a walking challenge. This is the last week for the program.
Compass, which supplies highway de-icing products, among other things, was the first company participating in A Step Ahead: Alien Invasion.
Since the challenge began, employees have made some changes. For example, instead of sitting in traditional boardrooms, employees have hit the pavement to participate in walking meetings. Large alien blowup dolls have also made appearances around the company’s headquarters space in the Corporate Woods office park.
“I think within the first week it’s been a success,” said Toni Scardino, manager of benefits and retirement at Compass.
Those participating in the program watch the story of an alien invasion unfold as they play online, relying on their real-world exercising and activity to keep them from being captured and eventually converted to the alien team.
Everything from logging workouts to improving diets can help players defend themselves. The more employees — and spouses — exercise, the more successful they are in the game.
The game is accessible on computers, tablets and smartphones and as an app on iOS, Apple’s phone and tablet operating system. The program also works with most major pedometers, such as Fitbit. Results are drawn and points are then put into the system to track progress within the game.
“There is an entertainment component here that is richer than any other walking challenge or health event to date that is an extended challenge,” Tinney said.
The program also has daily mini-games: eight one-minute physical challenges over the course of a day. This gives people a reason and excuse to pay attention to their daily activities.
“You just get up and you step away from your desk and you do your lunges. … I got up and I didn’t have to just sit all day,’” said Michelle Anderson, a procurement manager who is participating in the walking challenge.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are all obesity-related conditions and some of the leading causes of preventable death.
Medical costs for these diseases are in the billions of dollars in the U.S., and companies have the chance to prevent paying for some of these costs by implementing corporate challenges, such as alien invasions.
Compass participated in the walking challenge globally because of its various locations, including Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
“It’s something that brings us all together,” Scardino said.
Employees have challenged one another from thousands of miles away, a form of interaction they might not have found anywhere else if it weren’t for the walking challenge. Team members are not location-specific either. Employees at the Overland Park headquarters could have someone from the U.K. on their team.
“We think the benefits are the collaboration,” Scardino said. “We are unifying countries across locations, and our employees are really competitive.”
Out of about 2,000 Compass employees, more than 650 have participated in the walking challenge along with 175 spouses. Altogether, there are 75 company teams.
Those totals include 148 Overland Park employees and 35 spouses. Compass participated in a different walking program in 2014, but there was less technology involved and no spouse participation.
“It wasn’t as team-oriented,” said Anderson, who also participated in the program last year.
Anderson said she recommended the fitness challenge to other companies. People don’t realize how long they sit in regular office jobs. It also makes going to work a little more interesting.
“It’s a way to not only be competitive in your company in a fun way, but it also gets you up and moving and getting that exercise in for the day.”