Using Gamification to Boost Employee Engagement

Debunking the myths of gamification in corporate HR

Haris Mehmood

Aqib, the head of HR of in Insurance Company came across an increasingly daunting dilemma; a problem of ethics that was a company-wide epidemic. If exacerbated this could become a problem that might shut down the company! After months of research, consultancy and climate assessments there came a tidal wave of positive change. The TNA results showed lower rates of employee turnover, higher employee engagement levels and a high connectivity of the employees to company values.

Baffled by the turn of events, the CEO on one of his visits, called a meeting with Aqib and his team and asked in surprised astonishment, “What did you do? How did this happen?”

Aqib, getting comfortable took a seat and while reclining back said just one word, “Gamification.”

* * *

Gamification is not to be confused with game-based learning and other such buzzwords should get this straight; it is not introducing games to your workplace rather it is the usage of game mechanics and game psychology in the workplace to engage people.

Gamification genius Yu-Kai Chou defines it as the crafts of incorporating all the fun and addictive elements of game and applying them to real world situations.

Game mechanics are elements such as leaderboards, point-scoring, badges, levels etc. These are used engage people actively in non-game experiences like day to day tasks, adherence to rules, following SOPs etc. These elements are used to amplify and engage an existing, core experience by applying the motivational techniques that make games so engaging.

Psychological Underpinnings

Gamification is primarily rooted in Behavioral Theory. It rests on the assumption that if you turn your work into a game, with rewards for real life achievements, you’ll be more motivated to do something.

Biophysics shows that receiving a positive stimulus, a reward or a new level gets opened for you, triggers a response in the brain that releases dopamine and endorphins; the happy hormones.

Receiving rewards trigger a response in the brain similar to doing any pleasurable activity resulting in release of dopamine and endorphins. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp stated that the neural wiring of the brain propels us to seek experiences which reward us and fulfill our human need for happiness.

Bottom line is that reward the behavior you want to encourage. The key is to create or change current scenarios into game-like situations.

Application at the Workplace

When applying, gamification relies on the business goal you are trying to achieve; do you want your team to collaborate more? Do you want your employees to come on time? Do you want the completion of all tasks and SOP adherence? It can be tailored to suit your needs. More and more businesses are interested to know how gamify aspects of work to engage employees.

In order to apply game principles to the workplace, there are some aspects that need to be understood about the people in your organization;

  1. Their motivation,
  2. How they understand fun,
  3. What type of players exist in your company and
  4. Their specific need.

What motivates us?

Knowing what motivates people in your organization is key before you add gamification to the workplace. People are either extrinsically motivated; through Stuff, Access, Power or Status (SAPS) or they are intrinsically motivated; through Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery or Purpose (RAMP). In order for gamification to be successful, you need to analyze the right mix of both SAPS and RAMP in your organization. This mix will enable what type of game elements should be used and at what frequency.

How do we conceive fun?

Conscious focus on the element of fun in gamification is a critical element. Certain tedious or difficult tasks can be made engaging using gamification such that employees have fun when they do them rather than thinking them mundane. Fun is characterized in four forms:

The question you should ask yourself here is what type of fun would be most receptive by your people and in order to understand that you would need to identify the different types of players in your company.

What type of players do you have?

According to Bartle’s Taxonomy there is the Killer; always focused on winning, the Socialite; always the collaborator, the Achiever; who strives for results and the explorer; who seeks to gain understanding. What does your organization comprise of the most? You will have to cater your gamification insertions with the demographic division in these four categories.

As identified by Bartle’s taxonomy

Gamification Loops:

Once you have unpacked what motivates your people, how they perceive fun and what their player composition is you need to see at what extent do these gamification loops of progression and engagement come into play:

1- The Progression Loop:

When you progress with each level or stage that you pass, there are higher levels of motivation and a higher level of need to proceed. This increases engagement. These progressive levels triggers the mastery section of intrinsic motivation the most. The validation through badges and other game principles when a person moves from one level to the next boosts confidence and courage thus improving on engagement levels.

2- The Engagement Loop:

The cycle consists of Action, Feedback, Reward/Motivation and Action again. It keeps people engaged, as each action results in some system generated feedback (sounds, scores, pop up messages, extra lives etc. which are connected to meaningful achievements.

These elements combined will enable you to experience gamification and have a more engaged workforce!

* * *

“What do you mean gamification, Aqib? What did you do exactly?” queried the CEO challengingly.

Well, I introduced a superhero who did the tasks that the people had started getting vexed by and a villain who embodied all the ethical problems that were occurring as a result of the mismanagement or lack of completion of those tasks. Everyone volunteered to use this system to complete their tasks. The level of engagement shot up overnight! That problem we had with employees not focusing on the big picture? Well they all got united to defeat that villain! All social conversations in some way or another lead to talking about the number of tasks completed, values being discussed and more enthusiasm displayed! It has been a clear win-win!”

“Unbelievable!” the CEO said while shaking his head in disbelief, “Who knew?”

If you also want to know more about Gamification and how it can be applied to the workplace in different and customized ways- use this process of understanding motivation, fun, different player types, gamification mechanics and game psychology to begin!

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