Walking gets ethical: Bradford College and the Global Corporate Challenge

GCC-participant-globe2More than 260,000 people, in teams of seven, aiming to walk 10,000 steps a day each from May to September 2013.

More than 1,200 employers involved, with staff walking in 158 different countries.

A website – available in twelve different languages – that sends you on a virtual journey as you and your team members pool your steps, giving encouragement and advice onphysical activity and nutrition.

This is the annual Global Corporate Challenge® (GCC), and Bradford College is taking part for the second year running. The goal is better mental and physical health and improved engagement, productivity and team-working.

As one of the College walkers, I am having a great time.

The GCC’s European office happens to be in North Leeds, so I went to meet Senior Account Manager Stephanie Griffiths to find out about the Challenge and discuss some of the ethics issues.

Stephanie Griffiths with her GCC accelerometer.

Stephanie Griffiths with her GCC accelerometer.

Stephanie explained that GCC was set up in 2004 by an Australian ad agency. One of the agency’s clients wanted a wellbeing programme for all of their staff, and turned to the agency for help with a creative solution which would engage their employees. That’s when walking became the central focus: “It’s so straightforward,” Stephanie says. “Nearly anyone can walk. Many activity programmes appeal only to the converted. This is for everyone.”

The figures tell the story: the scheme is now truly a global concern, and remains very inclusive. “The GCC encompasses different forms of mobility,” Stephanie says. “Everyone used to be issued with a pedometer, but this year we’ve introduce an ‘accelerometer’, which measures almost any significant movement in any direction. So if you are into kayaking you can wear it on your arm. If you are in a wheelchair you can use the accelerometer, or an odometer which measures distance.

“For some people, managing a few thousand steps a day is a major achievement. For others, the challenge gets them hitting a very high step count. It works for everyone, whatever your level.”

The big ethics question that my team members at College sometimes discuss is whether people are being honest when they enter the steps. On the website there is a ranking of all the teams, and those at the top have individual members who regularly clock up 50,000 steps a day – this is incredibly high, and some teams are very competitive.

GCCPulsePackStephanie describes the checking procedures: “Anyone entering a particularly high step entry is asked to give a short account of how they achieved it. We check in part because sometimes people make mistakes – it’s easy to add an extra digit and not realise. We also ask for information if someone suddenly spikes when they have had fairly low step counts before, or if someone’s entries are very erratic.

“But there is no cash prize, no fixed reward for being the team that walks furthest,” Stephanie adds. “You are challenging yourself to improve, and if you cheat, really you cheat yourself.” The number of reports of possible cheating are very low.

“People participate in the programme  as employees: employers expect honesty, and we find that most people are very honest,” Stephanie says. “There’s the team factor as well: other people are walking with you, encouraging you – they can usually tell what step count is realistic for you. And the employer gets the statistics for their teams, so that’s another point of review.”

GCC is a private organisation, and companies pay per team to take part. The same fee applies to businesses, public services and charities. “In a few cases, businesses subsidise the scheme or pay only for the lower paid staff, with higher salaried workers covering their own costs. But the great majority of organisations pay for their staff to take part because it brings so many benefits and fits with social responsibility goals.”

Another ethics issue that comes up, Stephanie says, is security. The GCC website is clearly designed by professionals – it is colourful, interactive and very engaging. Psychologists and other health and wellbeing experts have helped with the development of the Challenge and the GCC site to maximise the benefits and encourage lasting behavioural change. “A lot of data is entered and it’s important that the information individuals and employers enter is secure,” Stephanie says. In addition, step counts can be kept private to the individual and their employer. “Your colleagues on the scheme, and other organisations taking part, do not have to know your count if you don’t want them to.”

There is a strong charitable component to the Challenge, which is linked to UNICEF. “Through the Challenge we are raising funds for UNICEF water filtration projects,” Stephanie says. “Each dollar donated by a walker or employer will be matched by GCC.” Last year was the final year in a three year scheme that enabled some 380,000 primary school children to undertake a shorter walking challenge at no cost to parents, school or government. GCC has a Corporate Social Responsibility strategy of its own, with an emphasis on ethical procurement and managing environmental impact. All the staff at the Leeds office are wearing accelerometers and clocking up steps.

GCC_lozFinally: Stephanie’s role is to work with organisationsin Europe, the Middle East and Africa, encouraging them to take part, helping them through the process, and  – when feasible – attending the celebrations that take place on completion of the Challenge.

My verdict: I am not someone who goes to the gym. I drive to work, where mostly I sit at a desk. But for two years running I have had the pleasure of being part of a Bradford College team and walking a lot, far more than I would normally. So I have to finish by saying that I am hugely impressed. The physical and mental benefits of the scheme are very clear to me. Thank you Bradford College and my team, and thank you Stephanie for the interview.


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