Why gamification can improve employee engagement

Why gamification can improve employee engagement
Phili Alexander

Why gamification can improve employee engagement

Employees are strongly motivated by recognition, rewards and the sense of accomplishment, so introducing the essence of gaming into the workplace can really help boost employee engagement and bring out their competitiveness...

The video games industry is expected to grow from £73.9 billion (2015) to a staggering £95.5 billion by 2019.

Video games are popular for many reasons, including the boost in self-esteem from solving puzzles or trivia games, to the relief of stress by focusing your mind on something else by escaping to another world for a few hours. Games release dopamine in the brain which is the chemical responsible for the excitement we feel when we chase a reward, something which video games are full of, and is also one of the reasons many people find them addictive.

A fun, addictive, stress relieving escapism for many people which employers are starting to utilise in different ways to make more mundane, everyday tasks more exciting.

What is gamification?

You can’t get further from a ‘game’ than when you’re at work, but gamification refers to the use of game theory, mechanics and design in non-game situations and environments.

By the end of 2015, 40% of the world’s top 1000 organisations used gamification as the primary mechanism to transform their business, and it’s predicted that the worldwide gamification market will grow from £195 million in 2012 to an incredible £2.2 billion in 2016.

Gamification as a concept is used in various scenarios in different ways. It’s already heavily used in fitness (MyFitnessPal), productivity (Habitica), mood/mental health (Mindbloom) and managing your finances.

Gamification taps into peoples’ basic intrinsic motivators, the top 5 being: Autonomy – “I control”, Mastery – “I improve”, Purpose – “I make a difference”, Progress – “I achieve” and Social interaction – “I connect with others”.

These motivators are common to everyone and research has shown that satisfying them can make an activity more productive and enjoyable. By making tasks feel more like games, it becomes a lot more effortless to encourage people to complete the tasks if they appear to be getting instant gratification or a buzz from them. People will then be rewarded for completing certain tasks which could be in the form of achievement badges, filling a progress bar or even being rewarded a virtual currency. Also, making these rewards visible to other players (i.e. work colleagues) in the form of leaderboards, will encourage others to compete against them in the quest to become the best.

A range of industries are now utilising the concept of gamification within the work environment for various reasons whether it be improving the motivation of their staff or attracting people to work for them.

In the workplace

Regardless of how much someone enjoys their job, being able to keep everyone engaged fully is a challenging task. Traditionally, KPIs are put in place to show staff what targets in particular they need to achieve on a regular basis, but sometimes these tasks can prove tiresome and repetitive, causing interest to fluctuate and people to become less interested in the job at hand.

Employees are strongly motivated by recognition, rewards and the sense of accomplishment, so taking the essence of games such as fun and competitiveness and applying them to non-game contexts, people are more likely to want to participate, driving positive behaviours and therefore becoming more driven to complete the task or hit the target.

Research by Gallup shows that companies are increasing their interest in gamification because only 31% of employees are engaged at work. The least engaged generation are Millennials with only 28.9% engagement compared to 32.9% for Gen X & Baby Boomers. Considering that Millennials are going to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, you can understand why companies are having to adapt.

The issue with the traditional method of performance management is that your weekly/monthly/yearly targets and objectives can become stale, but using a real-time performance management tool - where you could visually keep track on how you’re doing towards target, how you compare to others, how far to your next milestone and perhaps even how you’re doing compared to this time last year – can keep things relevant and interesting.

In recruitment

From a recruitment perspective, it can be used to measure a candidate’s potential suitability and commitment before you’ve even looked at their CV.

Unilever have a digital recruitment programme which uses online games to help with candidate selection. To help them narrow down the 250,000 graduate applications they receive every year, they now invite each candidate to play a series of games which are used to determine the candidate’s potential and how well they connect with the company’s goals. The top performing applicants are then invited for a video interview which is then followed by a face to face.

PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hungary developed and launched a game called Multipoly which is made up of an online part and a section based on personal participation. The ‘player’ submits a virtual application, takes part in the virtual interview process which presents them with tasks based on the competencies of the company. PwC then narrow down the applications to the best players and invite them in for a real interview. The outcome was that the candidates who played the game were much more prepared for the live face to face interviews because they had been pre-educated by the game. Time spent on their career page went from an average of 15 minutes to up to one and a half hours.

Using gamification, recruiters can become more efficient. Rather than organising an interview, why not send the candidate a game which can simulate the work environment and test their personality traits? This can then enable recruiters and employers to see upfront how a candidate may react in different scenarios. This can help decide whether someone is the right match for the company/job before they’ve even stepped into the office.

Regardless of the skills required for a role, gamification can be tailored to target its content around those attributes. It saves time for the recruiter, but it’s also is a good measure of the candidates’ commitment – if they can’t be bothered to complete the tasks the game requires, chances are they would have dropped out of the process at some point anyway. It’s also beneficial to the candidates; they get to build up a picture of what the company’s like and figure out if it’s the right fit for them.

Gaming is a way of injecting a bit of fun into the recruitment process, encouraging some friendly competiveness between candidates while providing valuable insight and information to recruiters.

Regardless of how gamification is applied - whenever you have a contest that has a winner, you create losers. If gamification isn’t done right, it can have the opposite effect and end up demotivating people. In the workplace, the trick is to create more winners more often, and don’t just keep it focused on individuals - also reward teams for working together.

Businesses need to adapt to changing technology and market conditions which won’t work without a motivated team. Some people are concerned that Gamification is just a sugar-coated, game-like facade to make work cute and fun, which normally causes people to dismiss it at face value. Applied in the wrong context and that’s exactly all gamification would be, however used in an ingenious, original and engaging way means it can be a game changer. Not just making it more fun to hit targets, but changing the culture and the way people tackle and perceive work could be the breath of fresh air employees need. 

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