How Your Business Can Use Gamification to Engage Employees

Encourage team members to hit work goals in a fun and unique way.

Encourage team members to hit work goals in a fun and unique way.

Gamification may seem like another Silicon Valley buzzword or a concept that only very young or very rich companies can try, but it actually isn’t hard to implement. Employers can incentivize their staff through healthy competition and encourage team members to hit work goals in a fun and unique way.

Gamification has been used by HR teams to onboard employees and in IT departments to work through tasks. It is possible for your company to use this engagement technique, too. Here’s why gamification has taken off in the workplace over the past few years and how you can try it with your team.

Why Is Gamification Popular?

Video games as a whole have become exceedingly popular across the world. The Electronic Entertainment Design and Research group says 67 percent of Americans (roughly 211 million people) play video games regularly on at least one device. Of that, 90 percent of Americans play games on their smartphones or tablets.

Gaming today doesn’t necessarily refer to Fortnite or Call of Duty tournaments that last for hours. The average gamer plays a quick game of Candy Crush while waiting for the bus or grabs their phone during commercial breaks to answer trivia questions.

Even before the advent of smartphones and computers, games and competitions were popular. Look at the Olympics or game shows like Jeopardy as examples. People like to compete and test themselves.

Winning Makes People Feel Good

Games aren’t just fun. There’s a psychological trigger that goes off when you compete and win. Molly St. Louis at Adweek explains that every point scored in a game causes the brain to release dopamine — the feel good chemical that lights up your mind’s reward center. This makes you feel more excited about what you are doing while keeping you coming back for more.

In a casino, this reward system might mean putting your winnings back in the slot machine in hopes of hitting the jackpot. At the workplace, it means working harder and being more productive in hopes of gaining recognition from management and your peers.

“[Gamification] plays on the psychology that drives human engagement—the drive to compete, improve, and out-do—and to get instantly rewarded while doing so,” writes Daniel Newman, CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. “The technology is merely the means to put that psychology to work in the business sphere.”

Gamification has become popular in the workplace because it provides a break from the monotony.

Gamification has become popular in the workplace because it provides a break from the monotony.

Gamification Encourages Engagement

Gamification has become popular in the workplace because it provides a break from the monotony and gives managers a new way to engage with employees.

This is important because 70 percent of business transformations fail due to lack of engagement, says NewVoiceMedia CMO Tim Pickard. Beyond that, projects fall behind, employees quit and workers underperform when they don’t care about the company they work for or the results of their labors.

By investing in gamification and using techniques similar to those used by video game designers, business owners can motivate employees and challenge them to reach company goals. The results are clear. Daria Lopukhina at Anadea reports that 90 percent of employees are more productive when companies use gamification and 72 percent say gamification inspires them to work harder.  

Gamification Transcends Most Companies and Departments

Gamification has also expanded as more companies, industries, and departments use it as a tool to engage with team members. Adriana Blum, senior mobile developer at Iflexion, gives several examples of companies that use gamification to improve their processes. Domino’s, for example, has a web-based training game that teaches employees how to make pizza and reduce waste. Participants score points and unlock badges until they complete the onboarding process and are ready to try making real pizzas.

Additionally, Spotify gamified its annual reviews to encourage managers to increase employee participation — which rose to 90 percent employee participation.

What Are Some Pitfalls of Trying Gamification?

While gamification is popular with both managers and employees, it can also create problems within your company if it isn’t done well. There are a few pitfalls that employers are susceptible to when developing games.

You Can Isolate Some Employees

Managers need to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to gamification in the company. What works in one team might not apply to another.

Patrice Lamarque at team collaboration software provider, eXo, says that there are multiple “player profiles” within every organization. Each will approach the games differently, and include:

  • Strivers who want to surpass themselves and beat their own development records.

  • Slayers who want to beat their peers to stand out.

  • Scholars who want to learn and master the rules of the game.

  • Socialites who want to use the game to collaborate with others and get to know them better.

If a manager is a “slayer” and creates a game with the idea of pitting team members against one another to see who performs the best, they may easily end up creating a stressful work environment for everyone.

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Your Games Might Have Unintended Consequences

Employees will either reach their goals or use the system to their advantage in unintended ways you might not be prepared for.

Employees will either reach their goals or use the system to their advantage in unintended ways you might not be prepared for.

Employees will either reach their goals or use the system to their advantage in unintended ways you might not be prepared for.

Persuasive technology and game design expert Sebastian Deterding, Ph.D. notes the example of Tumblarity, a tool developed by the social blogging site Tumblr. Tumblarity essentially offered a popularity score based on how many followers an account had and how often they posted. However, users realized they could boost their scores by posting constantly, without caring about the quality of the content. This behavior went directly against the purpose of Tumblr, which was to create a space for creative expression and community discussion.

Make sure that your team doesn’t sacrifice certain performance criteria just so they can win the game.

Lower Performers May Become Demotivated

Gamification can actually be demotivating for employees, says Karl Kapp, Professor of Instructional Technology at Bloomsburg University. He uses the example of a leaderboard where the top five people are highly engaged, but once you get to the bottom of the list, people start checking out. What is the point of participating if you can’t even crack the top 20, much less the top 10?

Furthermore, the employees in the top positions were likely already high performers, which means the gamification process just rewards them for doing the work they were already doing.

Conversely, when done well, gamification can be used as a tool to encourage top performers to build up their colleagues.

“Gamification can be a powerful tool in driving collaboration between your employees,” writes Dan Sincavage, cofounder of customer service software provider Tenfold. A top-rated employee who shares their best practices with the group or cross-trains lower performers can be rewarded for creating valuable training materials or for assisting their team members if bottom performers improve.

Effectively launch your gamification strategy for better results.

Effectively launch your gamification strategy for better results.

5 Tips to Effectively Launch Your Gamification Strategy

If you want to avoid demotivating employees and hurting the qualitative aspects of your business, follow these tips to create fair games that keep team members engaged.

1. Provide Feedback and Training to Build Employees Up

If  team members are competing against each other in a game, then you need to become the coach. Your job is to help players and give them the tools to succeed. In the workplace, this comes in the form of feedback.

“Any gamified solution should include continuous real-time feedback which provides the employee with cues how well they are doing, so they can reflect and improve,” Boaz Gordon at enterprise gamification platform GamEffective writes. “It should provide personal feedback on how close they are to meet the challenge’s goal and what should be their next best action to achieve it.”

This allows employees to push themselves to do better while learning skills that can help them in their overall performance and careers.

2. Address the Source of Demotivated Employees

Gamification designer Kerstin Oberprieler says strategic leaders will tap into employee motivation to create an experience that helps those team members reach their goals. That motivation can be anything from a desire for autonomy or a wish to express creativity in their work to becoming expert at what they do.

If, for example, an employee wants to be creative in a non-creative work environment, the right game can give them an outlet to express themselves. This makes the workplace more enjoyable and keeps team members engaged.

3. Create Multiple Rewards to Engage Participants

There shouldn’t just be a single prize that one team member takes home. In fact, Cameron Brain, cofounder and CEO of EveryoneSocial, encourages managers to de-emphasize rewards completely. The incentive should be based on participation, improvement and other factors within the game.

If you just reward the top performers, and the top performers rarely change, then the rest of the team is likely to check out. While you can reward the leader, it also doesn’t take much to create group rewards. An early leave day or catered lunch for everyone is sufficient and, more importantly, emphasizes the connection between group participation and gamification to the company and its goals.

4. Find Ways for Employees to “Level Up”

If you set one goal for all of your employees, then your top performers will always win. The team at customer engagement platform Benbria encourages companies to create different levels for people to participate on. When one team member reaches their goal, challenge them to reach another.

This can also help your reward system. Team members are rewarded by how much progress they make and how they grow within the company, rather than by set targets that only a few people can hit.  

5. Tie Your Game to Current Events or Short Bursts

Motivational games don’t have to last long-term. In fact, using gamification in short bursts can keep people competitive and prevent boredom over time.

For example, Jason Kulpa, CEO of software and services company, says his staff had baseball fever when the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was taking place right outside his office. In the nine days leading up to the game, his team completed a pile of tech tickets and unpleasant tasks. Each day was an “inning” and employees scored a “run” when they completed a ticket.

Using the event at work gave employees an added boost to complete their tickets in a fun and engaging way.

You don’t need a custom app or training tool to use gamification in the workplace. A creative strategy and whiteboard can be just as effective for most teams. Soon your employees could be pushing each other to do better and learn more, while increasing the productivity of your company.

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