Gamification is Here and It Means Business

5 minute read
Rajat Paharia avatar

“Employee engagement,” the high-profile catch phrase that’s been echoing through the halls of corporate America for the better part of the last decade is buzzing anew. The reason? An actual solution -- a game changer if you will -- has emerged, and with its proven ability to impact employee participation and commitment, it’s injecting new life into the concept of an engaged workforce.

How many times have we seen the business world caught up in novel ideas and concepts that, while in theory should change the world, in practice have limited impact? Grand concepts that lack the brass tacks required for success lose interest until the right technology comes along to deliver on the promise.

As such, “employee engagement” has languished somewhat over the years. While numerous studies have repeatedly demonstrated its value, and most companies recognize its importance, few have devised effective strategies to implement and, more importantly, maintain it.

The guidelines that have emerged to date to steer organizations toward the holy grail of high employee engagement have been rudimentary at best: Recognize workers for their efforts and showcase their accomplishments; let them know exactly where they stand and why; provide them with a career roadmap to help them navigate their professional future.

We already knew that. Did we need a list?

The challenge isn't figuring out what makes an employee engage with the company, it’s to identify and implement a methodology that engages employees in a scalable and repeatable way. We knew what the goal was, and we knew the value of the goal. What we didn't know was the route to achieve it.

Gamification as the Key to Engagement

It turns out, the best way to encourage engagement in employees is to use the same proven mechanisms used by video game designers to drive player engagement.

People don’t fundamentally change when they walk in the workplace door -- they are driven by the same human needs and desires: competition, achievement, challenge, status and so on, that motivate them when they’re playing games. By creating programs that address these needs and desires in the workplace, through a process called gamification, businesses can engage and motivate their employees and drive meaningful results.

The loyalty industry is a great example of basic gamification in action. Think about frequent flyer programs -- today more than 120 million people around the world accrue points, complete challenges, elevate their customer status and earn rewards in the form of free flights. And loyal travelers go out of their way to engage with the vendor where they have the most points and status.

Today, the business community is extending the gamification model beyond customer loyalty into employee incentive programs, integrating gamification mechanics into internal websites and communities, employee portals, internal campaigns and business processes to drive participation and inspire workers to share, collaborate, learn, comply and perform. And the results speak for themselves.

Game Mechanics Breed Engagement, Creativity

Global business consulting firm Bluewolf has woven gamification into its corporate culture to encourage communication and collaboration among its employees. According to CMO Corinne Sklar,

Customer engagement begins with employee engagement. To drive greater real-time collaboration and knowledge sharing among our employees, we needed a comprehensive program that would appeal to our entire team -- and extend organically into the corporate culture.”

Today, Bluewolf incentivizes workers to share information via a gamification platform. Employees earn points by posting or responding to discussion topics through the company’s internal collaboration tool, which generates ongoing dialogues that keeps programs and perspectives fresh and innovative.

Employees also share blog posts, white papers and other thought leadership content through external social networks, building their influence and earn points for doing so. Points can be cashed in for a number of highly-coveted prizes, and employees have bought in whole-heartedly.

Learning Opportunities

Since Bluewolf’s #GoingSocial program was launched early last year, there has been a 153 percent increase in traffic to the Bluewolf Blog and a 57 percent increase in activity on the firm’s internal social collaboration platform. The number of active bloggers regularly sharing fresh ideas, expertise and building out new concepts has increased eight-fold.

The #GoingSocial program has provided a multi-faceted foundation upon which employee engagement can be promoted, measured and publicized within the company, and it has resulted in measurable results that add to the bottom line.

The Value of Engagement

Organizations today are desperate to capture the hearts, minds, imaginations and focus of their employees. And for good reason: A 2010 study by Towers Watson found that companies with high levels of employee engagement enjoyed margins significantly higher than those with low engagement scores. And a 2012 Kenexa study of 64 companies illustrated that organizations with high levels of employee engagement achieve twice the net income of those suffering low engagement levels.

Employees that are engaged with the brand and committed to the organization can have a tremendous impact on virtually every aspect of the business from top-line revenue to reduced expenditures to greater customer satisfaction, and so on.

And as for the companies that don’t foster engagement? A recent Gallup study reported that lost productivity due to employee disengagement costs U.S. businesses more than US$ 300 billion annually -- more than twice the entire GDP of New Zealand.

The fact that businesses are eager to find innovative ways to better engage their employees comes as no surprise. But building engagement takes time, effort, a solid plan and a comprehensive solution. If you’re looking to cultivate employee engagement at your company, it might be time to get your gamification on.

Image courtesy of Champiofoto (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Ready for more from Rajat on gamification? Read Gamification Gears Up for its Biggest Year Yet

About the author

Rajat Paharia

Rajat Paharia is the Founder and Chief Product Officer, Bunchball. Rajat founded Bunchball in 2005.