Wellness games at work

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As more and more companies incorporate game-like features into their wellness plans, employees can get their game on and get healthy. 

All work and no play is not for Kurt Augustine.  For him, working out is all part of the game, a health game.

"It's something you think of every day. You're really fighting for bragging rights," he said.

He's logging steps on the treadmill and each mile adds up to reward points at work.  Augustine and his coworkers can also earn prizes and perks for eating healthy, taking vitamins or even getting a flu shot.

"They might compete in how many fruits and vegetables they eat during a day compared to their coworkers," said Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Health Miles.

A growing number of employers are now incorporating games into their health plans.

"This is not your HR department telling you to eat less and move more. This is a game. It's fun, it's social, it's got employees talking in the break room," explained Luann Heinen, Vice President of the National Business Group On Health.

In addition to bragging rights, employees can win real life rewards, from t-shirts to gift cards to a discount on their health insurance premiums.

"Some will give larger gifts at the end where the winning team will get a day off or they'll get a catered lunch or they get their name put in a drawing for a gaming system or for a tablet," said Julie Stich, Director of Research for the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans.

And those companies have reason to offer rewards.

"Healthier employees who are more productive, they're happier, they're more engaged, they're at work instead of absent. And all this can have a positive impact on a company's bottom line," said Stich.

Tonya Jarvis is Vice President of Human Resources at Jarden Corporation.  She says it's made a huge difference in participation in her company's wellness plan, with 60% of employees playing.

"It's fun and competitive and it keeps people involved because there's always the next objective to get to."

"One thing to remember is not every employee is a joiner and not everyone embraces the competition," added Stich.

So what happens if a worker opts out?  Experts say companies can penalize those who don't participate with higher premiums or deductibles, but they still have to carefully follow privacy, disability and anti-discrimination laws or they may end up facing penalties of their own.

Augustine says in his case, the pressure comes from his work pals.

"I think there's a peer pressure to be in this program. But I think it's a good pressure. It's not like another thing I have to do for work," he said.

Augustine says he's already won, losing five pounds and gaining the competitive edge over his coworkers.

He said, "You get to, you get to have a little moment where you pass by their office and go, "I made it, where are you?"

There are health games you can play on your own as well.  Phone apps such as RunKeeper or even the Weight Watchers app have game-like aspects with badges and rewards for staying active and losing weight.

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