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A total 91 per cent of men surveyed at work sites in northern British Columbia said they were interested in learning about healthy eating. Author provided (no reuse)

Friendly competition motivates men to get healthy on the job

Workplace wellness programs are typically designed for office settings. These programs have many components that encourage physical activity, such as email prompts to “stand up” every hour. But they tend to engage more women than men.

Men are also interested in healthy lifestyle behaviours, however. They want to become more active, eat healthy and reduce stress. But many men work in resource-based industries, such as energy, mining, and forestry, which account for 1.74 million jobs in Canada and may not lend themselves to typical workplace wellness programs. Because men access health services at low rates, the workplace is also an ideal setting to engage men in health.

As the principal investigator and the research coordinator in a research team from the University of British Columbia and Athabasca University, we created a unique workplace wellness program targeted at men in blue-collar careers. We developed this program — called POWERPLAY — in collaboration with the Canadian Cancer Society, BC Cancer Agency and Northern Health.

We discovered that when a workplace health promotion program considers the unique context of male-dominated industries and incorporates men’s preferences, men can make healthy lifestyle changes.

Male-dominated industries offer challenges to workplace wellness programs, but also opportunities to leverage strength and engage masculine ideals like friendly competition. Author provided

Step up and team up

The POWERPLAY program was designed with men for men. The program creates an opportunity for men to get involved in their health in a way that is both fun and acceptable to them. So-called “gender-sensitive” interventions like POWERPLAY represent a growing trend in workplace health towards reaching more men by considering their needs and preferences.

In the initial stages, researchers met with groups of men to discuss the best ways to support healthy eating and physical activity during their working days. Most men want to stay healthy so they can keep working and provide for their families. But often the nature of their jobs makes healthy eating and getting enough physical activity a challenge.

The gender-sensitized POWERPLAY program we developed from the findings of our study includes healthy eating, physical activity and well-being components. For example, men are challenged to “STEP Up” and team up to virtually walk more than 2,775 kilometres — the distance of the Great Northern Circle Route.

POWERPLAY was designed with a competitive theme, so co-workers could form teams and compete against each other. It provides motivational and creative messages, as well as positive incentives, online resources and flexible program and policy suggestions for employers.

Striving to attain goals

We introduced POWERPLAY to four northern British Columbia workplaces: two transportation companies, a coal shipping terminal and a municipal work crew. The majority of men from these four workplaces were interested in learning about the wellness topics included in the POWERPLAY program.

The majority of men from four northern, male-dominated worksites were interested in workplace wellness. Author provided

Men that participated in the program reported increases in physical activity and greater awareness of the importance of healthy eating while the participating workplaces implemented changes to support the men’s healthy choices at work.

“You could see that they were striving to attain more goals. You know, fit that extra vegetable in,” said one workplace lead at a transportation company.

Prizes and friendly competition

POWERPLAY has become a multiple award-winning, workplace health promotion program. It leverages men’s preferences, peer support and friendly competition to support health lifestyle behaviour change among men working in male-dominated industries.

Employees from two transportation companies describe the benefits of workplace health promotion.

Workplace participants suggested that while prizes encourage participation among male employees, friendly competition is the bigger motivator. As one human resources advisor from a regional municipality described: “The prizes are just to get people to go and sign up, and that’s half the battle. Every week there was a prize, sometimes two prizes and sometimes prizes for the entire team. I think that was fine but I don’t think that really motivated people. I think it was competing with each other — that’s what started to get everyone going.”

In fact, close to 20 per cent of the men who participated in POWERPLAY mentioned the friendly competition as their favourite part of the program. For example, one truck driver explained: “It gave guys a really great idea, built up a little competition and helped bring people together in the workplace.”

Healthy workplace month

Investing in employee health and wellness results in reduced absenteeism, improved productivity and fewer disability claims. Our goal is to assist more employers to use POWERPLAY to create workplace environments where men support each other in making lifestyle changes.

October is Canada’s healthy workplace month, making it a good time to reflect on how we can strengthen health promotion efforts that target men.

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