Remember how satisfying it was to slay Bowser in “Super Mario Bros.,” beat up thugs in “Mortal Kombat” and bring down a corrupt government in “Contra”? You couldn’t stop playing until you beat the game. Wouldn’t it be nice if you felt that motivated at work?
With gamification, businesses are attempting to use game-like incentives to motivate employees, improve training and build stronger teams.
In this article, we’ll talk about what gamification at work looks like, the top three trends and how they could impact your small business.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What Is Gamification?
Gamification involves incorporating gaming elements, such as leaderboards, rewards and badges, into everyday situations.
Here’s a simple example of gamification: If your company does inventory stocking, treat it like a game of Tetris. Recognize and reward employees who most quickly stock items in the right place within a set period of time. This can span a week, month, quarter or year.
The primary aims of gamification are:
- Simplifying and improving learning
- Boosting employee morale
- Increasing engagement
Elucidat found that 62 percent of learners said they would be more motivated to learn if there were leaderboards and healthy competition between colleagues.
The concept of gamification became well-known in 2010, and hit critical mass in 2015. Academic contexts and online courses have been very aggressive in adopting gamification.
Gartner’s 2016 Hype Cycle for Education (available to Gartner clients) classifies gamification as a key trend in the education market, stating that it will be widely adopted in the market within two to five years.
It is also expected to have an impact on organizational learning by integrating with learning management systems (LMSs) used for employee training.
Brian Burke, Gartner’s authority on gamification, and author of “Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things,” says:
“Companies are increasingly coalescing around a limited number of use cases for gamification, and training is certainly one of them.”
Brian Burke, Research VP, Gartner
In the next section, we’ll look at how the top trends in gamification can be applied to employee training, as well as employee engagement and wellness.
Top Three Gamification Trends at Work
This look at the top trends in gamification will help you figure out how your small or midsize business (SMB) can use these techniques and technologies to improve retention of training information, increase performance and improve morale.
Trend #1: Enhance Employee Training
Many traditional learning solutions treat every employee the same, regardless of their learning style. While high performers require less motivation to complete training exercises, low and mid-range performers need more attention.
Gamification addresses this need with progressive learning levels. This is similar to the way in which video games increase difficulty as you progress, and unlock new skills, special tokens and secret codes.
Burke says that gamified digital training engages learners better than traditional learning tools:
“While there is a certain risk that gamification may not achieve this with all learners, it is certainly better than providing people with the typical dry training material that has been used in the past.”
Brian Burke, Research VP, Gartner
Gamification may also allow SMBs to save on costs associated with training, such as hiring trainers, printing learning materials etc. Here are a few more notable benefits to gamifying employee training:
Faster onboarding of new employees. Gamifying new hire onboarding can speed up training time considerably. You can identify the learning speed of new hires, track their learning stages and set targets on the first day.
Virtual lessons also mean saved time and effort for managers, which is especially beneficial for SMBs where employees tend to wear more hats.
Equal learning opportunities. Gamification levels the playing field by grouping together employees with similar skills and learning levels. This categorization allows managers to evaluate employees against each group’s performance metrics and not more broad ones.
Ownership of one’s own growth: The report “Use Gamification to Improve Sales Performance by Motivating Middle Performers” (available to Gartner clients) recommends using gamification to encourage employees to set their own incremental goals. You can tie this approach to quarterly reviews and rewards to increase motivation in lower performers especially.
A Badgeville survey notes that 31 percent of employees are most motivated at work by money, while a combined 55 percent are more motivated by other factors. These include performing well, personal satisfaction, recognition, their colleagues and learning—all of which can be supported by gamification.
Learning one level at a time: Training can often seem daunting to employees due to lack of time or perceived difficulty. Gamification can break the training down into small steps or levels that challenge employees without discouraging them. Finishing each levels boosts learners’ confidence, which keeps them engaged and allows them to showcase newly acquired skills.
Use case: How gamification simplified a “boring” but mandatory practice
Thomson Reuters and True Office created an anti-bribery “game” to teach employees how to avoid violating compliance policies and prevent company secrets from leaking.
The game puts trainees in real-life inspired situations that involve interacting with characters (such as a café owner or fellow colleague) to point out the danger of potential compliance breaches.
(Source: Thomson Reuters and True Office’s Anti Bribery)
Trend #2: Using Gamification for Team Building
A little friendly competition can promote both team and individual growth.
Some startups try to build interoffice relationships by offering games such as pool, foosball or ping pong during down time. Gamification attempts to create the same dynamic during work—even for remote teams.
Here’s how gamification can help improve your team’s collaboration:
Nurture relationships at work. Often times, work tends to make people operate in individual silos with limited communication. Gamification can help you remedy that.
For example, take multi-player games. A multi-player game can have players from across the world as a character having a particular fight tactic, healing potions, deep game knowledge or special weapons. If a player requires a certain skill, communicate with a character from the leaderboard or game forum and form a team.
Taking a cue from these games, encourage your employees to build “super teams” with each member contributing a different and unique skill.
Since skills vary, each employee can be judged on different parameters. This discourages aggressive competition within the team. The “super team” then pushes for greater recognition as a unit within the organization and works to achieve their goals faster. This work partnership could also have the added benefit of translating to friendships after hours.
Use healthy competition to bring employees together: Companies can use gamification to encourage healthy competition between teams. Each level of progression could be made part of the individual’s and team’s performance metrics.
Examples of these metrics could be gaining skills, navigating tough work situations with a positive attitude, forming partnerships with key allies and ranking on the top of the leaderboard.
Encourage innovative thinking. Gamification also has the potential to encourage thinking in a creative way. Just as in a game, where finding shortcuts leads to quick wins, gamified strategies could encourage employees to create innovative plans to help the business grow.
One way you can encourage out-of-the-box thinking is by turning brainstorming sessions into a treasure quest, giving employees puzzles to solve within a time frame. They could be pirates looking for a bounty!
Try this activity at least twice a year so that employees can look forward to participating in these events as an alternative to regular (and often boring) meetings.
Use case: How Waze connected drivers in a community
Google-acquired mapping service Waze uses geo-gaming elements to bring together a community of drivers to generate traffic data.
The social aspect (you can tie your Waze account to Facebook) and the gamified elements (winning points for contributing road information, such as roadblocks, accidents and maintenance) encourage drivers to participate.
Waze manages to bring together disparate drivers and create an active “team.” This team actively interacts with each other to alert users about upcoming events, live updates and map issues.
Trend #3: Promote Employee Wellness
Healthier employees have greater concentration and are more reliable. A company wellness program can have a great effect on productivity and morale, but getting employees to participate can be challenging.
For some companies, instituting a wellness program involves installing a gym in the office. But that’s a huge cost for SMBs. SMBs need less expensive, easier ways to promote healthy lifestyles and to combat sedentary diseases.
One small example of how companies are doing this is to encourage employees to hit their daily health targets—such as walking 5,000 steps a day—and celebrate their successes.
Here are other benefits to gamifying wellness programs:
Attract better talent to your company. Small incentives offered for reaching personal health milestones could help attract the best talent to your company. As health and fitness become more important to employees’ personal and professional lives, it stands to reason that potential employees would actively seek organizations that offer a great wellness program.
Create a positive atmosphere. Compliments and positive feedback can go a long way toward making someone’s day. Tap into the sense of gratification that comes to ensure an encouraging environment at the workplace. Frequent rewards and kudos from coworkers for small achievements will motivate workers and could even help them progress faster in their careers.
Use case: How one company improved its employees’ health
Mechanics systems provider SKF USA Inc. started its wellness program in 2011 by giving each employee a pedometer. By 2013, SKF hit over 60 percent participation with an average of 8,564 steps a day per employee—double the daily average of typical employees.
While 78 percent reported increased morale, more than 80 percent reported greater camaraderie between colleagues. Employees also said they felt healthier, more productive and more engaged after joining the program. What’s more, SKF realized an ROI of about $9 for every $1 that it invested.
Gamified wellness programs are also relatively easy and affordable to implement, so SMBs could feasibly implement them. Both the Google Play Store and iOS App Store offer plenty of fitness tracking apps for free. Use an app that has a social network component so that achievements can be celebrated.
Should You Believe the Hype about Gamification?
In its Hype Cycle report, Gartner predicts gamification will transform organizational learning in the next two to five years. A white paper from True Office forecasts that the gamification market will reach $5.5 billion in 2018 for a growth rate of 67 percent from 2013 to 2018.
Based on those numbers alone, it sounds as if companies should get on this bandwagon, right?
Not so fast.
While gamification has great potential, Gartner does not consider it a “must-have” for organizations right now. It can require a large investment to replace existing learning systems and create customized solutions. As an SMB owner, consider these points if you want to adopt gamification:
Gamification approaches need to be customized. This market is still evolving, so it’s tough to find ready-made solutions that address all your needs. The alternative is to ask your LMS provider to customize a solution or to create one in-house, both of which may be too costly for SMBs that have limited IT budgets and infrastructure.
At this point, SMBs should wait until enterprises test more robust gamification systems that require significantly more resources. Gartner expects these tools to become mainstream within two to five years, at which time, costs will likely be lower.
There are still small-scale gamification initiatives that SMBs can launch in the meantime to improve productivity and morale. A gamified fitness program is comparatively easy to set up and maintain, and you can add gamification elements into your employee appraisal process without requiring a huge investment.
Gamification hasn’t achieved 100 percent success … yet. The verdict is out on gamification. To succeed, gamification strategies must be carefully planned, designed, tested, deployed and continuously iterated upon to sustain engagement.
Think about what employees will do once they’ve crossed all the training levels. Would their learning stop? How would they progress to the next level or be challenged and inspired? It’s important to consider all steps in the journey while planning your initiatives.
If you think gamification would be a good fit for your SMB, here are some software solutions to help you get started:
- Configio: This LMS solution lets you build your own online courses and the web-based format gives access to the courses on any device. Courses are designed in various formats, such as task lists, surveys and interactive videos, and address multiple learning levels. Learners who are struggling in a course are provided hints during assessments so that they can progress further.
- EduBrite: This is a cloud-based LMS solution that specifically targets SMBs and educational institutions. In addition to creating quizzes, courses and surveys, educators can also import documents, such as presentations, videos and Word files. It incorporates two gamification elements—social leaderboards and badges that are visible to the entire organization. Learners in one program collectively receive badges upon completing a course based on their performance.
- Pact: This fitness app asks users to make pacts with other users by committing an amount, sticking to their goals and then winning money for achieving their targets. The loser has to pay the winner. The cash incentive motivates users to win or lose their money—which is a bit extreme—but if it helps your colleagues and friends stay fit, why not! The app is available for free on the App Store as well as the Google Play Store.
Companies could start by giving each employee an allowance, and after some time, allow employees to increase or decrease the “stakes” based on their fitness levels. Also, if employees get to keep their winnings, then they’d be motivated to keep playing.
Check out these solutions in detail on our website and browse other solutions on our LMS software listing page.