University of Derby Case Study

Activity levels and communication boosted with Workplace Challenge at University of Derby

Organisation Profile

Name of organisation:

University of Derby

Type of organisation:

Higher Education

Organisation size:

1000-3000 employees

Geographical location:



  • University of Derby prioritised employee wellbeing and also recognised the importance of increasing participation in sport and physical activity in the community.
  • The Workplace Challenge has provided a platform to engage employees and launch a programme of activities.
  • The University has created a network of Active Staff Champions who have promoted the inclusivity of Workplace Challenge in incentivising participation in all types of physical activity.
  • The Challenge has impacted on communication by helping staff to network and get to know colleagues across the organisation.
  • There has been strong management support from the Vice Chancellor and managers who encourage staff to move more during the working day.

What was the main reason the organisation got involved in Workplace Challenge?

Workplace Challenge was integrated into the work being done at the University in helping to create a healthy and active workplace. Health and well-being is a priority for the University and the organisation looks at different techniques for engaging employees to be physically active. The Workplace Challenge is one of the tools promoted at the University to motivate people to become more active. The Challenge has provided a platform to launch activities such as charity bike rides and walking groups.

What activities did the organisation do as part of the Workplace Challenge?

The Workplace Challenge is part of a wider programme of physical activity, sport and health activities being delivered at the University. It is promoted within the organisation by the 'Active Staff Champions'. Staff members became Active Staff Champions as many saw it as within their role and felt that raising awareness of physical activity, health and wellbeing was important in helping to change colleague's lifestyles choices and promoting the benefits of a healthy and active workforce

The champions predominately focus on promoting the Workplace Challenge during the national challenges, particularly during January. Most champions had communicated the Workplace Challenge to their departments via email, encouraging staff members and explaining that is was an inclusive tool for all employees regardless of current activity levels. As one champion commented:

"I try to show that it's not all about having to go out for a run or a 50 mile bike ride, just things like walking the dog and gardening."

Active Staff Champion

The University also offers a wide programme of activities for employees to participate in alongside the Workplace Challenge. There are many physical activities self-organised by staff such as social runs, badminton, indoor and outdoor football. The Sports Development Officer promotes and encourages staff to be active, furthermore there is a staff bursary for coaching and instructor qualifications to enable staff to lead activities.

The Workplace Challenge has initiated new ways of trying to get staff more active in the workplace. For example, recently the organisation introduced team building packages where employees are able to book team building for their departments using physical activities. The Project Lead explained that these ideas had come out of their involvement with the Workplace Challenge.

What was the impact of the Workplace Challenge on business outcomes?

Since the introduction of the Workplace Challenge at the University of Derby there has been great engagement from the staff. They indicated that being involved with the Workplace Challenge helped them:

  • To feel part of the University
  • To form relationships with other staff members that they didn't previously know, within both their own and other departments.

The national challenge was thought to have been very effective at initiating conversations between staff as it provided a talking point of common interest.

There was a feeling amongst interviewees that the programme had a positive impact on staff motivation to be active due to the competitiveness the programme created to motivate themselves and other colleagues.

"I like the competiveness. I find that quite fun and interesting and actually it made me go out and do different things."

The University's involvement in the Workplace Challenge initiated the introduction of 'Active Staff Champions' into the organisation. The number of champions has grown over the last few months with 22 of the university's 29 departments currently having Active Staff Champions. Due to the size of the University the Sport Development Officer was unable to reach out to all employees so having volunteer representatives has been effective in communicating physical activity messages across the organisation.

What was the impact of the Workplace Challenge on individual employees?

The challenge was described as helping staff to make steps to adapt their lifestyle and for staff to think of different ways of being active:

"I've set myself a challenge to run to work. It's 12 miles, and that's a long way to run and then work and then run back, so I found somewhere I could park my car 10k from work, which is okay to run in the morning and at night."


One employee felt that the initial impact of the Workplace Challenge was great and it created a lot of buzz in the office, particularly the element of competition and the banter it created between colleagues:

"I saw more people doing activity, they were logging hours, they were looking at, observing their activity and considering how many points they received. It really focused people on looking at what they do and if they took benefit."

What were the key factors influencing the success of the Workplace Challenge in the organisation?

  • Support from management for active staff champions to promote physical activity.
  • Increased recognition by management of the importance of being physically active.
  • Promoting low intensity activities, such as walking to work, was most successful in engaging staff in the Challenge.