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Play to win: How Gamification Is Impacting Business and HR

By Kelly Craig on September, 19 2016
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Kelly Craig

Ordinarily, if your employees spend their time playing games on the job, it might signal a worrying lack of productivity & engagement. 

But new game theories and behavioral psychology suggest that games in the workplace could be the key to promoting deeper engagement and productivity.

Whether it’s trusty favorites such as Solitaire and Minesweeper or new crazes like Candy Crush, games can be dangerously addictive. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 42 percent of Americans play video games for at least three hours per week.

But it’s not just about recreation. We’re increasingly using games to motivate ourselves personally and professionally.

Every time we earn recommendations on LinkedIn, collect badges for being a helpful contributor to online discussions, or use a fitness app to track our activity levels and compare them to our peers, we’re using gamification to improve our lives.

Gamification is simply the application of game principles to make ordinary, non-game activities more fun and engaging. These principles include simple, recognizable cues to guide action, instant feedback for actions taken, a ranking system to mark progress, and a clear path to continued achievement.

For example, on LinkedIn, we’re encouraged to progress through the ranks of beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert, and all-star by responding to cues that encourage us to perform certain desired actions.

These include adding more connections to our professional network, joining professional groups, and giving and receiving recommendations and endorsements. The more we participate and interact, the higher we rise in the ranks, and the more positive reinforcement we receive.


Why gamify HR?

Gamification directly supports some of HR’s biggest goals: engagement, productivity, and knowledge retention.

According to a survey of 530 workers by Badgeville, a business gamification company, productivity is the top benefit of gamification: workplace productivity levels increased for 90 percent of workers who used gamification. Engagement is also a key benefit, with 30 percent of workers reporting an increased desire to be at work and engaged when gamification was part of their job.

Gamification’s impact on knowledge retention is also impressive: a study by Indiana University showed that 45 percent of knowledge was still retained six weeks after gamified training, compared to just 4 percent after conventional training.

Gamification as an HR discipline is still in its infancy, but it’s already being used by organizations in a range of industries to impact a wide array KPIs:


Improving user adoption

Entrepreneur recently covered an interesting use of gamification by Lawley Insurance, an insurance and risk management company. Having invested in a costly CRM, the organization had difficulty motivating employees to perform the required data-entry tasks.

The company decided to gamify the process using a program called LevelEleven to set performance levels and enable employees to track their progress and earn rewards. Within weeks, the new approach dramatically increased the level of activity on the CRM where months of non-gamified engagement failed to move the dial.


Boosting productivity

A Bloomberg article cited the example of Oracle, whose health sciences division used gamification to address unacceptably slow rates of data entry among clinical trial researchers.

By enabling researchers to track their own data-entry activities, compete with their peers, and earn a chance to be recognized for superior performance, the division can add some interest and excitement to a dull but necessary part of the job and motivate employees to be more productive.

Enhancing recruitment

In Hungary, PwC launched Multipoly, a tool in which people can go through an entirely virtual recruitment process, including application, interview, and internship. Players have a chance to win prizes such as iPads or Macbook as well as career-building opportunities such as an in-person meeting with a PwC executive.

According to a Forbes article, gamifying the recruitment process significantly boosted the time job candidates spent on the site, increased the candidate pool by 190 percent, and increased users’ interest in learning more about working at PwC by 78 percent.

Players also transitioned more easily into the real-world jobs with the company after absorbing so much of the company culture from the game.


Supporting continuous learning

HBR wrote about how Deloitte used gamification to transform learning from a worthwhile but low-priority chore into an addictive activity. The organization created a Leadership Academy that uses missions, badges, and leaderboards to entice employees to acquire the skills that are most important to the company.

Booz Allen has created a similar product to encourage employees to improve their data science proficiency by going on an intergalactic mission that presents increasingly advanced, scenario-based challenges.


Let the games begin

While gamification as a productivity and engagement tool is still a new area for most HR professionals, early results suggest that it has significant potential.

Ultimately, the mechanisms that make games so endearingly popular are the same principles that make for a better workplace: a clear path to achievement, regular milestones to mark progress, and continual feedback to acknowledge positive actions and provide encouragement.

As sophisticated gamification technologies continue to evolve and become more accessible to every organization through solutions such as Work.com, Axonify, Badgeville, Bunchball, and many others, they will become an increasingly important part of HR’s core strategies.


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