It was a sweet moment for John Alexander the day his eight-year-old daughter put her arms around him and said: "Dad! I can reach my arms around you now!" The 41-year-old IT account manager for Sprint had been overweight for years, suffering from high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Two of his brothers had died from heart attacks. Keeping up with his two young daughters had become more difficult. He knew he had to do something.

So when Sprint launched a 12-week Get Fit challenge last summer, Alexander used it as an opportunity to jump-start his weight loss. Thanks to some good-natured ribbing from the vice president of his department, Alexander joined a team at Sprint's corporate headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., and challenged other teams throughout the organization to walk more and start getting fit.

At the end of the challenge, Alexander had dropped about 70 pounds, lost 10 to 12 inches from his waist and gone down about 10 pant sizes.

Sprint estimates it saved approximately $1.1 million through its social media wellness challenge. Approximately 16,000 of the company's 40,000 U.S. employees registered to participate in the 12-week challenge, which ran on a social media platform.

Because it was the first health challenge the company had launched on a national scale, Sprint wanted a turnkey solution that was easily scalable to all its locations across the U.S. It was also looking for a program that would engage its young, tech-savvy workforce, and it wanted a program that would offer measurable outcomes.

Sprint partnered with ShapeUp, a wellness software company, to launch a 12-week program. Employees signed up in teams, and the competition focused on weight loss, exercise minutes and pedometer steps.

Using ShapeUp's social networking platform, employees could log their progress online through a website as well as through their mobile devices. Standings in various categories were posted at the end of each week so employees could indulge in a little friendly competition and hold each other accountable.

"Social networking and grassroots marketing really attracts a crowd at levels we haven't seen before," says Sean McNattin, vice president, innovative health solutions with OptumHealth, one of Sprint's partners.

And while the Get Fit challenge was not Sprint's first foray into wellness - the company has a gym at its corporate headquarters, offers access to a 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week nurse advocacy line and health and wellness portal called Sprint Alive! - it did want to expand its reach.

"We had done quite a bit of focus in our call centers," says Collier Case, director, health and productivity, with Sprint. "But I felt we were missing an opportunity to reach our more remote or smaller- location employee base with some of our programs."

Sprint has about 1,000 retail stores across the country. Each store employs about 10 people. It was a group that had not traditionally participated very much in wellness programs the company offered.

"We had a desire to reach out to a broader population than we had in the past," notes Case. "We were looking for something innovative, creative and fun, but that also provided an ability to tap into an existing infrastructure that was competitive - store-to-store results. I think we found a good fit for our particular culture and one employees responded to quite positively."

Results suggest employees were able to change their behavior. Over the 12 weeks, Sprint employees lost over 40,000 pounds of weight, completed nearly 22,000 minutes of exercise and logged almost 4.8 billion steps. Of those who participated in the program, nearly 70% were first-time wellness participants.

Sprint saw impressive early registration numbers, but just under half (45%) of employees who started the program finished the entire 12-week challenge. "If I had one change to make for this type of program launch for the first time at an organization, I may not have gone as far as 12 weeks," says Case. "Eight weeks would have been more optimum just because we were doing it in the summer months."

Still, he is pleased with the results. "My greatest joy is the sustained effort and what we've seen post-program," he says. "We continue to see people out there with their former teammates, or creating new teams, to stay on a wellness track, which has great benefits for the individual and the organization."

The social networking aspect of the program was a huge motivator for employees as well. Although Alexander felt awkward exercising with his colleagues at first, "it helped having people there doing it with you."

Sprint's Get Fit challenge is also proof that accountability to others can be a powerful incentive. While the company offered some physical incentives - a pedometer for all who registered, random draws for Sprint headsets and e-points employees could redeem for gift cards or purchases on the company's recognition portal - Case believes the friendly competition among teams was the biggest incentive.

And if Alexander's experience is any indication, Sprint employees are now more engaged and committed to their employer. "It really made me feel that Sprint really did care about me," he says.

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