Turning work into a game is serious business

Gamification can help engage employees in their benefits, wellness, and other crucial areas. It’s a simple concept: When you make work fun, you can improve both productivity and employee morale.

Increasingly, employers are accomplishing this by using gamification strategies. Gamification plays on employees’ competitive instincts and often incorporates the use of rewards to drive action. Rewards typically include:

  • Virtual rewards, such as points, badges, discounts, and free gifts.
  • Status indicators, such as friend counts, leader boards, achievement data, progress bars, and the ability to “level up.”
  • Real rewards, such as gift cards and payments.

This practice is perhaps most popular with sales teams, in which participants, for example, might receive points or earn badges for calling customers, holding sales meetings, watching training videos, and performing other important tasks. You can read countless articles in business magazines about how gamification has motivated teams and knocked sales goals out of the park.

But gamification goes far beyond the sales function. Think of the most neglected activities at work that are nevertheless essential for your organization. Learning about and selecting employee benefits would be high on the list for many employers. Keeping fit and engaging your employees to participate in your organization’s wellness program is another area ripe for gamification.

The future of gamification

The technology consulting firm Gartner has projected 50% of corporate innovation will be “gamified” by 2016. Another consulting firm, Deloitte, cited gamification as one of its “Top 10 Technology Trends for 2014,” predicting: “Serious gaming simulations and game mechanics such as leader boards, achievements, and skill-based learning are becoming embedded in day-to-day business processes, driving adoption, performance, and engagement.”

The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project surveyed technology experts, and 53% agreed with this statement: “By 2020, there will be significant advances in the adoption and use of gamification. It will be making waves on the communications scene and will have been implemented in many new ways for education, health, work, and other aspects of human connection, and it will play a role in the everyday activities of many of the people who are actively using communications networks in their daily lives.”

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Best practices

Employers who want to apply game-like mechanics to their employee benefits education, wellness activities, and other areas would do well to focus on the following tips.

  • Have a measurable goal. Focus on encouraging a specific behavior. If, for instance, you want to familiarize employees with all of their health plan options, reward users for viewing educational presentations by giving them points every time they do it.
  • Focus on things people already want to do. Your best starting point for gamification is to reward a behavior that’s already happening.
  • Measure the change. Track the desired behavior before and after gamifying it, so that you’ll know whether the gamification is working. Many experts emphasize the importance of data tracking in gamification strategies.
  • Reward large and small accomplishments. A good game-like experience measures and rewards small accomplishments in addition to big ones. When you recognize people for completing incremental goals with badges and points, you encourage them to keep going. When you reward people for accomplishing larger goals, you remunerate them when they succeed.
  • Make it social. Whether within a closed environment such as a wellness challenge or a more open environment like the company intranet, giving people the opportunity to share their accomplishments adds meaning and significance to their achievements. Social interaction creates a healthy competition among participants, which feeds into the psychology of competition. People enjoy competing with their colleagues and peers. But most of all, gamification is a tool that can help make a change in behavior fun and interactive.

Ultimately, effective gamification takes real work. It's a solution that should be customized to your organization and goals.

Scott Fuller is RHU – SVP and Employee Benefits Practice Group leader at Associated Financial Group

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