Best ways to use gamification to improve employee engagement
In this age of record turnover, it’s more important than ever to keep employees engaged. Gamification can be extremely effective in this regard, but only when it’s utilized correctly. Gamification is about more than just adding points and leaderboards into otherwise mundane activities. It’s about identifying and tapping into each employee’s unique motivations.
Gamification is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year enterprise. But while a lot of companies are embracing gamification, far too many are doing it wrong.
How companies use gamification
We’ve spoken at length about the value of gamification in training, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Gamification can be effective for engaging employees in a variety of areas, including:
- Customer service / customer satisfaction
- Inventory management
- Team building
- Project management
Gamification is something that businesses do all the time without realizing it. For example, let’s say that you manage a movie theater and you want to increase the number of popcorn upsells at your concession stand. You can establish a contest with a prize going to the cashiers who sell the most large popcorns in a given month, thus incentivizing your team to upsell. Even if your point-of-sale system doesn’t have gamification built in, you can track your large-popcorn sales for each cashier and provide your team with regular updates on who’s leading.
Of course, if you want to get the most from gamification, there’s tech available to make it an even more integral part of the employee experience. Game mechanics are being integrated into modern eLearning systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, point-of-sale systems and more. These types of game mechanics include leaderboards, point systems and badges.
As a leading-edge learning management system, Axonify even has games embedded into the learning experience to promote greater knowledge acquisition and retention. If your team relies on any type of company-wide software, there’s a good chance that some level of gamification can be enabled—or that an alternative software will offer the gamified features you’re looking for.
How to use gamification to boost employee engagement
Workplace gamification can improve employee engagement and employee satisfaction in a number of ways. It can be used to support and reinforce:
- Employee onboarding
- Ongoing training and skills reinforcement
- Team building
- Company goals and KPIs
- Employee career development
But it only works if you follow a few golden rules:
- Incorporate a variety of game mechanics to appeal to different personalities and motivations. Examples include leaderboards, badges and social features. Axonify uses a variety of game mechanics as well as actual gameplay, and the games themselves can be turned off for people who would rather focus on the learning materials. The experience is entirely tailored to the user.
- Reward employees with real perks and prizes (if your company culture permits). If the reward is limited to bragging rights, it’s not going to be nearly as motivating. Among our own clients, we’ve seen 15% higher participation rates among teams working in pursuit of physical prizes like bonuses, flex time or premier parking.
- Make it competitive and social. Game mechanics work best when employees are able to come together in the spirit of friendly competition. Gamification should be social and provide a sense of connectedness.
- Provide instant feedback. If you’re using gamification software, participants should be able to see their progress in real time—in the form of badges, progress reports, digital graphs or other visual tools. If you’re running a non-digital contest or game, you should provide constant updates via an office whiteboard, a web page or another medium that participants can access.
The key is to work friendly competition and other game mechanics into whatever goal you’re trying to achieve. These efforts will keep employees engaged because:
- Gamification can motivate employees. Employee motivation is what it’s all about. Gamification taps into people’s extrinsic motivations, the desire for rewards. But as employees achieve success with the game mechanics, they also experience an intrinsic fulfillment, a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment.
- Gamification reinforces a sense of purpose. It can feel monotonous to clock in every day and complete the same tasks. Employees often feel disconnected from the larger goals of the organization. When utilized properly and tied to the company’s KPIs, gamification can provide a renewed sense of purpose and excitement.
How NOT to use gamification
Just as there are best practices for employee gamification, there are also a few counterproductive approaches you’ll want to avoid.
- Don’t make it mandatory. Not everyone enjoys games and competition, at least not at work. If you have team members who just want to get the work done, they might resent the idea of forced gaming. Give people the freedom to opt out.
- Don’t use negative reinforcement. If poor game performance is tied to real consequences in the workplace, employees are going to have a negative impression of the game mechanics—thus defeating the purpose of using gamification in the first place. Yes, you want to ensure that everyone remains accountable, but the gaming itself should always be a positive experience. This is one reason why Axonify uses casual gameplay. Axonify games support the learning experience, but you don’t have to be good at the game in order to get the most from your training. Or, you can choose to not play at all and just focus on the content.
- Don’t have a game without a purpose. Gamification works best when it’s used to reinforce a goal. The operative word is reinforce. The gaming experience shouldn’t be the main activity—it should support the main activity, whether that means training an employee, hitting a sales goal or bringing the team together. To refer to our previous movie theater example, the main activity/goal would be to sell more popcorn. The upselling competition would serve to support that larger goal.
- Don’t be flippant when dealing with sensitive topics. This pertains largely to training program gamification. If you’re providing sexual harassment training, sensitivity training or any other type of training that deals with delicate subject matter, you don’t want to trivialize it by adding race cars and colorful space aliens to the mix.
Use gamification to create engagement and improve employee retention
Gamification isn’t rocket science. It just needs a purpose, a plan and an approach that resonates with the individuals on your team. While it’s not a magic solution for all of your employee engagement challenges, it’s an excellent tool to have at your disposal.
Engaged employees are happy employees, and happy employees are much more likely to stick around and become top performers. So try incorporating some game mechanics into your own workplace, and discover what it can do for employee productivity and results. As long as you’re smart about it, you’ll be amazed by the outcome.