HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Gamification in the Workplace

How great would it be if work was like reading a good book or playing a video game when time flies? Let's look at gamification strategies that aim to do just that.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is the act of applying game mechanics to non-game tasks or goals to improve attention, encourage engagement and make the overall experience more enjoyable. Mechanics include a personally motivating reward system that is scalable based on the complexity and difficulty of the goal at hand. For example, a large goal is broken down into small steps. Each step receives micro-rewards that increase in value at completion and escalates to a large reward at the completion of the prespecified goal. The goal of gamification is to make mundane tasks more easily achievable by making each step more fun to complete.

The Case for Gamification in the Workplace

There’s a reason casinos and arcades are successful business models. Fun is the ultimate, universal motivator. What happens when we apply this motivator to the more mundane? Why gamification?
  • Impacts behavior and is engaging. According to this 2018 survey, 84% of employees reported feeling that gamification made them more engaged and 82% reported feeling happier at work.
  • Increases productivity/efficiency. That same survey reported that 87% felt more productive.
  • Is enjoyable for participants. Because participants were having fun, stress was lowered overall.
  • Improves focus. People naturally become more zeroed in on what is interesting to them. Gamifying aspects of work takes advantage of this rule.
  • Reduces burnout. When work feels less like work, factors that contribute to burnout (such as feeling overworked and having little control) are lessened or even removed.
  • Reaches a large demographic. Fun is a universal language. As such, quality gamification systems tend to be effective across many demographics.

Areas HR Can Gamify

The question isn’t whether or not gamification is effective. The question is where can gamification in your company be the most effective and well-received.

1. Recruitment and Onboarding

In many companies, gamification is making the recruitment process more engaging. Since many gamification elements can be automated, these strategies can streamline the process of hiring and can be applied to onboarding as well.

2. Talent Management

Gamification psychologically affects employees positively when applied to recruitment, incentives, training, etc. But what happens when we increase access to these methods to surround everyday tasks? The statistics are still good. Gamification strategies greatly boost competition and eagerness, increases productivity, and is highly requested by employees. For ideas on how to implement gamification in the day-to-day, see the tips and elements sections below.

3. Training and Development

This study completed by TalentLMS found that 83% of employees who had gamified training reported feelings of motivation upon completion. In contrast, of those who completed traditional training, 61% reported feeling bored and unmotivated. Gamification methods, when applied strategically to training and development, increase employee’s retention of new information and make them more engaged in their work. However, don’t throw out all of your existing training to reinvent the wheel. Reevaluate the material you have and look for areas where gaming elements can be applied. Look specifically for segments aiming to engage employees in a change of behavior, answer specific questions, or solve problems. These are areas where gamification can be applied with the least amount of work.

4. Employee Incentives

A gamified employee incentive program combines the success of a quality incentive and the motivation of fun. This takes your existing successful incentives and adds game elements. You’re probably already doing this to a degree without even knowing it by using tools like leaderboards, special events, or prizes.

Tips for Implementing Gamification in Your Organization

Depending on the size and structure of your organization, you might not want to go out alone. There are respected content providers like these that can make the whole process much smoother. However, if you choose to implement introducing game elements throughout your organization, here's what to keep in mind.

Tip #1: Keep it Simple

If you went to play a new card game but needed to learn a 1,000 page manual with wordy rules, Would you feel frustrated? Overwhelmed? If the rules of a game are numerous, boring or unforgiving, the game will not be enjoyable and the same is true for your employees. Cut out the unnecessary, simplify the complex, and focus on building in game elements that are enjoyable for everyone.

Tip #2: Scale Rewards

The rewards need to scale based on the size, difficulty, and time investment of a task. In other words, there needs to be a task-to-reward balance. Instead of selecting rewards based solely on how large or challenging a task is, select the reward based on how motivating a task is. For example, repetitive, boring tasks are naturally more difficult to complete because by the 1,000 time copying and pasting client data, getting teeth pulled starts to sound like fun. Scale the reward accordingly. Boring tasks in a role-playing game (such as crafting or trading) are strategically paired with extrinsic motivators. This could be earning an achievement by doing a task a certain number of times or by making the task more engaging. You can add additional rules or fantasy to the task itself. When selecting rewards, evaluate them in light of how naturally motivating something is.

Tip #3: Make Room for Employee Personality

For many, the opportunity to customize to reflect individuality is motivating in and of itself. An easy way to utilize this motivator is by utilizing customizable avatars such as through avatar login features. Alternatively, some gamification programs such as Bounty Tasker or Habitica use role playing game mechanics. With each task completed, the employee can earn experience points, go to the next level, earn in-game currency (to spend on avatar customization) and unlock achievements.

Tip #4: Create Opportunity for Gamification on all Fronts

As mentioned in the previous tip, there’s a wide variety of workplace productivity applications and programs that use gamification methods. Bounty Tasker is one of the more complex and involving options, but there are other simple productivity programs that use game mechanics as well. Centrical, for example, uses push notifications, unique challenges, simulations, and surveys to strategically motivate employees. It also aims to help employees organize and track their tasks in a fun and engaging way. Spinify is similar using leaderboards, contests, points, achievements, badges and more. PerkVille, Todoist, and some Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software such as SAP offer game mechanics as well.

Tip #5: Don’t Take it Too Seriously

This is a productivity and engagement strategy based on games. When taken too seriously, gamification methods can be perceived as harsh and make productivity and morale drop instead of rise. If you and your employees aren’t finding the gamification methods enjoyable, you’re not doing it right. For example, when Disney introduced a traffic light-themed leaderboard for its laundry workers, it was dubbed the “electronic whip” by the employees. Don’t be like Disney.

Best Practices of Gamification in HR

Gamification might sound like all fun and games, but don’t be fooled. It is a researched topic that dives into human psychology. Without reading textbooks of information (although this one is excellent), here are the main points to pay attention to when gamifying your workplace.

1. Make it Replayable and Adapt

The aspects of gamification should not be the same every time. To hold the employee’s attention, there need to be variable changes as engagement dwindles if something is monotonous and repetitive. This can be achieved through the scaling of rewards, increasing difficulty, and offering opportunities to gain prestige through level increases, such as badges.

2. Evoke a Sense of Independence

Give employees more ways they can be in control. Mayo Clinic lists “lack of control” as the first potential cause of job burnout. Inspiring a sense of autonomy in one’s own life improves overall morale. Gamification capitalizes on this by giving employees more options for how to carry out their responsibilities and be in charge of their own success, as the rewards are dependent on individual effort.

3. Create a Sense of Connection

On the flip side, you also want to inspire a sense of connection. Demographically speaking, offering social aspects to gamification keeps employees more engaged for longer (especially for those over 30). This can be easily applied through using collaborative rewards, in-app messaging, and leaderboards.

4. Prestige

For those not intrinsically motivated by the other aspects of gamification, the sense of accomplishment and prestige that gamification offers can be motivating and rewarding.
Kayla Farber

Kayla Farber

Kayla is the Chief Innovation Officer at Hero Culture, where the passion is to create company cultures of retention using the power of personality.
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