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Lead Your Team Strategy

Gamifying Your Workforce: How to Make Engagement Fun

Gamifying Your Workforce: How to Make Engagement Fun
Credit: Mathias Richter/Shutterstock

Gamification has become a popular tactic for modern companies that want to drive loyalty and engagement. In light of the success of gamified customer experiences in recent years, employers are starting to realize that internal gamification can yield similar results among their staff members. By adding elements of games to everyday brand interactions — unlocking rewards through everyday activities, holding social media contests with prizes, etc. — businesses have found that both customers and employees become more engaged and want to stick around.

"People are driven by competition," said Mick Hollison, chief marketing officer of sales acceleration platform InsideSales.com. "Many organizations struggle to keep their employees engaged, but by incorporating gamelike incentives and a bit of friendly competition into their day-to-day routine, employees are motivated to achieve success above and beyond their standard goals."

This is especially true for new employee training, which significantly impacts employee retention rates. According to a recent Inc.com article, employees who undergo a structured onboarding experience are 58 percent more likely to remain with a company for at least three years. Using gamification in your onboarding process can contribute to greater engagement, and therefore greater retention. [What Is Gamification?]

"Training typically occurs during that time when employees [are] most overwhelmed — right after they're hired," said Steve Sims, founder and chief design officer of gamification company Badgeville. "Gamification helps break apart training into a clearer, more achievable series of efforts and results. Training progress is celebrated along the way, thus keeping attention and effort on the goals."

"Gamification ... incorporates training into an environment that is fun and mirrors other games in social media," added Paul Gordon, senior vice president of sales at Rymax Marketing Services. "A total of 48 million people play games on smart phones and tablets and 77 percent of gamers play at least one hour a week [according to Big Fish Games]. By building a game into training that is social ... and educational, it makes the company look progressive and resonates with today's employee base."

If you're ready to introduce game mechanics to your internal operations, here's what experts have to say about doing it the right way.

The idea behind gamification is to introduce a competitive element to employees' tasks, using public recognition and rewards to give them a greater incentive to meet goals, both in their own positions and within the company as a whole. As with marketing gamification, these systems typically include something earned — such as points or badges — in exchange for prizes that are tangible (gift cards, consumer products, free lunch) or intangible (an extra day off, a charitable donation, an all-expenses-paid trip).

Following these tips can help you create a successful internal gamification program:

Clearly define and measure your processes. If people don't know what they're working toward or what they need to do to get there, your gamification attempts will fall flat. Sims noted that gamification should always start with business goals and how they're going to be measured. Then, you need to understand the groups of employees you're working with and what you want to motivate them to do.

"We advocate for ongoing analytics, both to measure progress toward goals and to provide information to evolve the solution going forward," Sims said. "Anything can get stale, so the gamification solution needs to keep evolving."

"Having a great visual representation of employee standings and clear, consistent KPIs will help encourage teams to reach the top spot," Hollison added.

Provide quick feedback. An efficient feedback loop will help your program succeed, Hollison said. Being able to provide frequent and immediate feedback via scorecards or goals will allow employees to adjust their performance accordingly.

"Every sports team and video game uses immediate feedback to help players improve their performance," Hollison said. "Organizations using gamification techniques should similarly leverage real-time feedback to drive individual and team success."

Get people invested. Charlene Li, an analyst at business research firm Altimeter Group (a Prophet company), noted that gamification only works if your staff members really care about what they're doing and why.

"There's a whole system of value attached to gamification that needs to be thought through," Li said. "There [needs to be] a social aspect — badges need to be tied to development and recognition [by] someone in authority or your peers. The games and goals have to be meaningful, otherwise you feel like a pawn on the chess board."

Gordon reminded employers that, as with all aspects of company culture, engagement is not one-size-fits-all, and gamification can't be, either. Talk to your employees about what motivates them and what kinds of rewards they might want before you implement a gamified system.

Gamification works in employee training and engagement for one simple reason: Playing games is one of the most natural ways for people to learn, Li said.

"Children like to play games as a way to challenge themselves and learn," Li told Business News Daily. "Gamification is an issue of, 'How do you get someone's attention fully focused on a task?' How do we put elements of play back into learning so we pay attention more? People do realize that training is important, but [gamification] makes it fun and interesting."

Aaren Terrett, sales center director of O2E Brands, parent company of home service providers 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, Wow 1 Day Painting and You Move Me, said that gamification works for his millennial-heavy staff because it taps into their desire for instant gratification.

"The introduction of gamification into our sales center has increased productivity, customer conversion rates and staff morale," Terrett said. "We create contests with grand prizes such as Apple products and paid time off to encourage agents to reach targets."

Similarly, Gordon said that Rymax runs "the greatest race"-type events in key cities, where employees team up to go to specific landmarks, obtain clues and company information at each site, and try to complete the race to win brand-name products.

"It creates tremendous team building, an increased awareness in the company's objectives and most importantly, an event that is memorable and product rewards that have residual trophy value," Gordon said.

Gamification can be incredibly effective when it's done well — but it can also backfire if it's applied in the wrong ways. It's important to create a healthy sense of competition, but not so much competition that it ends up demotivating your employees. Sims reminded employers that people learn at different paces, and a competition can be disheartening to those who don't advance as quickly.

Li agreed, and said that tactics like leaderboards may end up discouraging people from participating if it only rewards "the" leader.

"Leaderboards are good in ... a group with a strong bond, but you have to show the top 20, not the top 1," Li said. "[In that situation], if you're not the leader [and] you're not gaining something, you don't care, and that doesn't help."

Another problem to watch out for is employees getting too complacent with your gamification program, and falling into a steady, comfortable routine.

"We've learned that it's important to occasionally introduce new internal contests and real-world rewards to reignite excitement and spike employee motivation," Hollison said. "Otherwise, you may risk a decline in employee engagement and overall performance."

Finally, employers should also be careful when they add external rewards like gift cards and products as incentives, Sims said. While these things may be nice to incorporate as an occasional perk or contest prize, using them as your sole incentives will send the wrong signal about why people should be motivated to do a good job.

"Employees aren't training in order to earn a gift certificate — they're training so they can add professional skills for long-term advancement," Sims said. "True business gamification focuses on intrinsic rewards and benefits. It helps employees along the journey to greater success for the long term."

Nicole Fallon

Nicole Fallon received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.