People Strategies for SME's: Why You Need Gamification to Engage Employees

13 November 2020 10:09:00 GMT
28 mins read

Have you run out of ideas on how to engage your remote employees during the UK’s 2nd lockdown? Motivation and productivity levels among your team are likely to be low, especially as people contemplate a festive season isolated away from their families and loved ones. 

Gamification may be the answer. Eva Evangelou from Onalytica, recently hosted a presentation webinar to tell us why there really is a place for gamification in the HR toolkit, remarking that, “you're ultimately looking to build a more fulfilling, a more engaging and subsequently a more productive workplace.”


Workplace gamification and employee engagement“Using game mechanics we can at all times ensure people work on non-gaming tasks while enjoying themselves, feeling motivated and engaged. With human resources in mind, gamification is a very powerful tool as it also ensures employees are loyal to the brand and will stay longer in their employment,” says leading gamification consultant, Nicolas Babin

The reason we use gamification is to take something that's not a game, apply game mechanics, and then use it to increase user engagement, happiness and loyalty. “It may be a process that you do every day and you just want to find a way to make that more engaging, maybe more competitive and just make sure that it gets done. But it's also about turning just your workplace into a more fun and more exciting environment,” according to Eva. 

“There are a lot of challenges around that, I think, particularly within changing times, within covid, within having a dispersed workforce, it's much more difficult to get our employees to engage.” 

“We know that in recent times, businesses have been forced into changing the way they do things, and we found that 70% of efforts of business transformation efforts have failed.” Eva recognises that “there's clearly a long way to go in terms of getting your people on board. So if you're just focusing on getting the job done, you're missing a trick and that's costing businesses.”

It's important for us to tap into one of the things that drive engagement and motivation within our workforce. In her 2011 book, Reality Is Broken, Jane McGonigal shared the 4 motivational elements that underpin the reward process that motivate an individual gamer. The first is satisfying work - we all want the opportunity to improve on what we're doing and progress within our roles. 

Next is a perspective of success - feeling like we've done well. Are you providing some kind of feedback to employees so they know when they’ve done a great job? Think about the last time of your colleagues shared really positive feedback with you and how that impacted your day and then how you continued to perform on that task. 

The reason for that neurological response is that dopamine is released whenever we're rewarded for a specific action and gamification gives users that instant hit of dopamine. It's the same reaction that we have when we get a notification on our phones. 

The next of McGonigal’s motivational elements is socialising - interacting and connecting with other people which is every HR manager’s biggest challenge at the moment. Connection has been really hard. Think about how you can bring that social aspect and create more visibility so people feel less isolated. 

The last element is significance - people want to find meaning in their work, knowing what the greater impact of their role is. 

Eva made it clear that gamification at work “is not about turning work into a game. It is still supposed to be work. But what we're talking about is leveraging the psychology behind what motivates people and how to work that into the business sphere. So how do we get people to really want to compete, to really want to improve and to get instantly rewarded when they do that?”

Some jobs are much easier to measure than others, for example in sales it’s easy to quantify the number of calls, leads, and revenue and create a leaderboard around that. Other work is more subjective or much more difficult to measure and to quantify but that doesn't mean that you're not able to apply gamification. 

The bottom line is that we should be using gamification as a way to bring people together. So it needs to not be stressful. It is really important in these times to make sure that anything new that you implement is not meant to result in 5 more hours of work for your employees. It's just considering how you give employees something that helps them be more productive and perform better? 

The full webinar is also available as a podcast, click here to listen where ever you get your podcasts. 

We’d love to hear how you’re implementing gamification in your small business to better engage your remote employees during the pandemic. Write to us at team@stafftreats.com


Here is the full transcript of the interview for anyone who's interested: 

My name is Eva and I'm really excited to be here for the Workplace Gamification Webinar brought to you by Staff Treats. Sean here is going to be facilitating so please do raise your hands if there are any questions at any point. Today we're really going to be exploring what gamification is. Don't forget to hang on until the end. I'll be sharing the details of a competition where we have a £100 voucher up for grabs. 

I want to get you thinking about gamification in a broader context. I'm sure that some of you here are thinking about where you have seen gamification? Does anyone have a coffee shop, rewards card that gives you points and then they eventually give you a free coffee or free dessert or at work have you ever done an office ping pong tournament or a fantasy football tournament? 

One of my favourites is Duolingo. They're a fantastic example of gamification. They are top of the language apps because they've managed to tap in so well to what motivates people and what drives them into action. We're going to be looking at how we can apply that at work.

First of all, what is gamification, shouldn't we be just focusing on getting the job done? Why is it important to make it like a game? And why is this a tactic we want to consider? You're probably very aware of what gamification is so you're ultimately looking to build a more fulfilling, more engaging and subsequently a more productive workplace. 

The reason we use gamification is to take something that's not a game, apply game mechanics, and then use that to increase user engagement, happiness and loyalty. Within your business, that can be an actual part of your job. It may be a process that you do every day and you just want to find a way to make that more engaging, maybe more competitive and just make sure that it gets done. 

It's also about turning your workplace into a more fun and more exciting environment. There are a lot of challenges around that, particularly within changing times, within covid, within having a dispersed workforce, it's much more difficult to get our employees to engage. So why is it important to get our employees engaged and why should we care about that? 

We know that in recent times, businesses have been forced into changing the way they do things, and we found that 70% of business transformation efforts have failed. There's clearly a long way to go in terms of getting your people on board. If you're just focusing on getting the job done, you're missing a trick and that's costing businesses a lot more. 

We found that 89% of employers think that people leave for more money. In fact, only 12% of employees leave because they want more money. A lot of people leave because they want to find a job that they love. They want to feel that they're doing meaningful work. They leave their managers. 

In her 2011 book, Reality Is Broken, Jane McGonigal shared the 4 motivational elements that underpin the reward process that motivate an individual gamer. The first is satisfying work. We all want the opportunity to improve on what we're doing and progress within our roles.

The next is a perspective of success, feeling like we've done well, do we get some kind of feedback? Do we get a reward? Think of the last time you got a perk for doing a job really well, or when one of your colleagues shared some really positive feedback with you or one of your managers and how that impacted your day and then how you continue to perform on that task. 

There's a reason behind that. Dopamine is actually released whenever we're rewarded for a specific action and gamification gives users that instant just hit of dopamine. It's the same thing we get when we get a notification on our phones on social media. And unfortunately, it's controlling more and more of what we do but we can leverage some of that into making work more engaging. 

The next is socialising, interacting and connecting with other people. Connection has been really hard, I know, for our team at Onalytica. We don't have a lot of visibility of what the team is doing so that can be a challenge from the management side. 

Maybe you live with family and you have a lot of people around. I know that some people on our teams live alone or live in an apartment with housemates they're maybe not that close to. We really want to make sure that we help bring that socialising aspect and a little bit more visibility into how people are working, particularly during these times while we adjust to working remotely and potentially together. 

Next is significance showing that there is meaning to what you're doing, knowing what the greater impact of what you're doing is. We want to make sure that we're motivating employees in this way, getting them to try to recreate that experience, recreate that dopamine hit. 

This can also make people competitive. Some of the best competition I've seen in companies is with sales teams because you have a leaderboard and you can look at how many calls you've made and how many deeds you've generated, and that just keeps people coming back for more. 

We really want to tap into that competitive spirit but we don't always want things to only be competitive. It is still supposed to be work but what we're talking about is leveraging the psychology behind what motivates people and how to work that into the business sphere. How do we get people to really want to compete, to really want to improve and to get instantly rewarded when they do that? 

What's important to think about is that some jobs are much more easy to measure than others. I made this many calls, I drew this many leads, and I brought in this amount of revenue and other work is much more subjective or much more difficult to measure and to quantify. 

That doesn't mean that you're not able to apply gamification. Feedback is something that you're very easily able to offer, and it doesn't have to be on very specific metrics that have to be measured on the leaderboard. It's important to think about how it applies in different businesses. 

The bottom line is you should be using gamification as a way to bring people together so it needs to not be stressful. I think this is really important in these times to make sure that anything you bring in is not meant to be 5 more hours of work for your employees. 

Next, I want to look at applying gamification in the work context. When it comes to learning and development, we found that 83% of employees said they felt more motivated when all of their training was gamified, compared to 28% who felt motivated when they were doing non-gamified training. 

I have a fantastic example of gamification in the work context. I was in a client relationship management team at IBISWorld a couple of years ago and my manager, Will, at the time knew that we had low calls and low meetings booked. He came up with this idea and he didn't tell us what the reward was going to be, but we knew that he knew us really well as a manager so we all got really excited. He was like, there's going to be a reward for whoever has the most calls and meetings in the month of November.

We all got super competitive. I mean, a lot of my colleagues played sports, so they were right in on it. We were just constantly making calls, trying to book in meetings with clients. If some people were working at a really large business, they would meet 3 people within that business on the same day just to make sure that they could count it as 3 meetings. 

We get to the final day at the end of November and we get called into the boardroom to find out what the rewards are going to be. And bear in mind, at this point, we can see everybody else's calls and meetings. Proportionately for the number of calls and meetings that you had booked, Will had a stack of envelopes. These included prizes that you could win depending on how many calls you'd made, you could draw another envelope from the stash. 

People are drawing the envelopes, drawing another envelope and you open it -  it was cold, hard cash. We had scratch cards. We had half a day of annual leave, which was definitely what I was gunning for. 

For me this was just a fantastic example of gamification because it was a manager that knows his team very well and was able to get the feedback from us and make these rewards that we really cared about. So I'll always remember that example.

If you have a small team, then I'm sure you can very easily find out what motivates each of the individual members of your team but if you're a part of a bigger team, then getting the feedback on what motivates your organisation as a whole so that you can better structure your reward system is really useful. There are a lot of tools on the market that will help you gather employee feedback.

Staff Treats are also developing a feedback system so have a look and see if that's something that might be relevant to your business. 

The next thing I want to look at is some of the key principles in setting up a gamification strategy or tactic at work. First of all, understand what you're trying to achieve and why you're trying to achieve it. Learning to listen. That comes from collecting the feedback either through your managers, through any feedback systems you have, design the skills that you want. 

It's really getting to what the individual tactics are going to be and how you can leverage that with the tools you already have. I'm guessing not everyone has unlimited budgets, there are small things that you can do within your team that don't require any tools. 

Clearly communicate with your team. Come up with the rules that are going to apply and make sure that they're clearly communicated, they're transparent. Ideally, if you can give your teams as much visibility as possible over what the game is going to be, then that will drive the best results. 

You want to make sure that you're testing and adjusting for how that's going. I work with a B2B influencer marketing software. When we set up influencer marketing programmes, we try to get businesses getting their employees more active on social and more engaging and becoming thought leaders. 

However, we found when we set this up with one of our clients, they set the goal to like as many influencer posts and influencer content as possible. What this led to was people going in and liking as many things as possible and not really thinking about what they were doing and not really driving the desired outcome. 

We gave them the opportunity to test and adjust that to make the reward system a little bit better. What we ended up deciding on is how you get rewarded is inbound interaction from influencers. So you have to go out and say something interesting that's going to get someone to respond to you and that will get you up the leaderboard.

We can measure for all of that so make sure it's something you can easily measure and it's not purely objective or at least there's a voting system. Some of the strategic elements do have to be set up around this. What are the achievements that you want? How are your teams going to be structured? Is this going to be something that you're going to apply to just one specific team? 

Do you want to split people within that group? Do you want to have people within different regions? Is everyone playing against each other and there are no teams? How are you going to make this visible to everyone? How can you have some kind of leaderboard that's accessible and what are the levels? What does it mean to improve and do better? 

Here are a few examples if you're further down the process and you want to level up, a more specific representation of how you can use these tactics to achieve these elements such as getting badges for anything that you’ve managed. 

Having a time pressure. If it's something like admin, I would say whoever does it in this amount of time gets this reward or maybe doesn't have to do it next week. Maps are more useful when you have dispersed teams or where you can see people near you and how they're performing. 

Some kind of exclusivity. Do you get something, can you offer something to people who are higher up the level that you don't get from just everybody participating? Progress bars to let people know how they're doing, allowing people to explore different things that they could use. Exploration. Random elements and Easter eggs. If you're a gamer, then you probably love a good Easter egg. 

Gamification for HR. HR has a huge responsibility right now, we're meant to be improving and boosting employee engagement and future performance and productivity, and it's a tough time, so there are going to be a lot of responsibilities, but there are tools that you can leverage just to reactivate and motivate your workforce and get the best out of them. We want to be focusing on what we can do that's going to fuel the future performance.

We’re going to look at some case studies now and how to apply this in the real world. Not everyone is into a cheesy team building activity. The thing about it is whether you're actually engaged and really enjoying the activity or whether you hate it enough to joke about it one way or another, it leads to people connecting. What are the things that you could do every week to have some form of team building activity?

Next is a quantifiable review system, either smart or self-assessment. This is something that you could do with all of your employees, it can be supported by your managers. How are you actually showing people how they're performing over time, how they're improving and how they're trending towards the goals that they're heading for?

Next is an office ping pong tournament. I know some people are back in the office, but this isn't always the case. But there are so many online resources that you can leverage to your advantage to get people connected.

For now, we've got a cocktail making class that's running by the employers. We've got a cooking class where someone chooses one of their favourite recipes, like a family recipe, and they're sharing out the recipe and then just showing everyone how to cook it. Or we've got a photo competition where you have to head out into nature and find some wildlife. Anything that you can think of that brings the team together, is a little bit of a game, is quite easy to apply in the real world and you don't need to spend any money. 

A leaderboard for the best people in the team. It doesn't just have to be salespeople. There are so many different things that you can measure across a team. It could be, whoever receives the best feedback from customers or any of the tasks that you're doing on the day to day, whoever gets the invoices out earliest.

Then fantasy football. This always comes up. I never join. That's another point, not everything has to be for everyone. We're all different and that's wonderful. My advice would be to source ideas from your employees. Ask them what they would like to do, if they have any ideas. 

Let's look at some of the people who have done this the best. My favourite example is Duolingo. I haven't included them here, but I do recommend you try it if you’re learning any kind of language. It’s been shown that getting people to do an action is normally motivated by three things. 

First of all, do they have the ability to do things? Have you made something too hard? Is something too difficult? Do they have a motivation? Is there some reason to do that thing and third, do they have a prompt? Sometimes when we wonder why people haven't done something, it's not because they don't want to or because they're terrible, lazy people. 

Sometimes you haven't made it easy or given them a little reminder. We get these notifications on our phone all the time. What nudges can you give people into that activity? Duo Lingo does that pretty well. We've got some awesome case studies to go through Starbucks, Amex and Google and Cisco.

We'll start off at Starbucks. If I have any Italian friends here joining who hate Starbucks, that's fine. That's acceptable. I'm sorry that I'm talking about Starbucks first. They have mastered a great user experience for coffee though. When you log in to their, to their rewards programme, you can see what balance you have. 

We all have that person who you cannot talk to until they've had their first coffee in the morning. The app lets you order in advance. They even let you set up your own playlist through Spotify that's like a pre-morning. You're finally getting your coffee and then you're relaxed. They let you do all of these things via the app. This is how they've implemented a bit of gamification. 

They've put together all of their customer feedback, their loyalty programmes, gaining stars and levels and giving people treats. Once you reach a certain level, you might get a free coffee or you might get a free dessert. It brings everything together in one ecosystem, ultimately rewarding people and making them want to keep coming back to the app. So once you've had a load of pumpkin-spiced lattes, you might want to work them off with the next case study that we got.

And that's Strava. They have got 42 million people, they're using gamification and every activity that you complete is part of a race. It gives you a prompt, but it also has a really great community aspect. It will tell you about the people that are running near your level and the people that are at the top of the leadership. 

It will also give you the top 10 finishers for every race that you complete, but also the ones that are nearest to you so that they can be your rivals. They'll tell you if someone's stolen, your crown as king or queen of the mountain. They've also got prizes or discounts that you're able to apply.

Amex actually started gamification. In 1999 they had a company wide game. I'm sure we've all still been into a shop where they don't take Amex. Whenever you as an employee reported a shop that didn't take Amex you would get a game card. Imagine it a little bit like snap. From that game card if you continued to report more and more shops and then you got 2 pictures that matched, you'd be able to cash them in for prizes. 

If you think about it, it's quite a negative experience. You go to pay with a card and its 'Ah, you don't take Amex' again, why do I even have this card? They immediately managed to turn that around into make this a game. Weirdly, you almost want to go somewhere that doesn't accept Amex. Fast forward a few years and now they tell you if you spend this amount of money in 3 months, we'll give you this many air miles. 

Into Cisco. Cisco built a social media training programme for all of its employees and contractors to build out their social media skill set. We know that it's becoming increasingly important for employees and execs of a business to have an online presence. However, they had about 46 courses as part of the social media training programme. 

It was pretty tough to know where to start. So they decided to split that into different levels of certification for the programme to make it more engaging. Sometimes, even if you have something existing, just categorising and adding some form of reward can make it that much more engaging.

They split the levels into specialists, strategists and eventually master and they ended up having 13 000 courses taken, which they achieved. 

Google had a travel expense programme which involved employees submitting timely travel expenses. They had a huge issue with this. They gave people an allowance, but then they wouldn't submit their expenses and then people would complain because they weren't paid on time. 

No one wants to do their admin and sometimes you don't keep all the receipts and going to find them is a bit of a pain. They set an allowance for every location that they had the work trips to and they gamified the process by saying, 'You have this pot of money. If you don't spend the entire allowance, you can choose what happens to it so you can decide whether you want to put the money towards your next pay cheque'. 

They can save it for you so that you can use it towards a next trip or something that you're working on or finally, you can donate it to a charity of your choice. The results were fantastic. Within 6 months of launching that, they got 100% compliance from companies. 

Simply talking about gamification is not going to make it happen. You need to start experimenting and learning what works with your team, like the sales team who are liking a load of posts. You want to take it one step further and find what works for your business. You don't have to budget 40 million to do this. It might be a £20 voucher and it can be as simple as that.

We put together a couple of recommended tools that we found useful. Kahoot! It's essentially a quiz app and you can use it whenever you've got a new person joining the team. You can film the person's reactions to some of the questions. You could do 2 truths and a lie. 

What do we know about what motivates these teams and what do we know about what rewards we can give them? What is their day to day? What are the tasks that they have to complete? Which ones do they not like, that we might be able to make easier? How much do they collaborate as a team? Can we increase the opportunities for them to do that and for them to engage? 

Open up the chat and please fire away with any questions.

[Question received] "Is there a template for applying the process?" 

That's a great idea, Claire. We haven't got a set. I'd say the closest we have to this process is really the how to start. What kind of template? 

[Question received] "Can gamification cause jealousy?" 

Can technology cause addiction? It's a big question. If people are prone to being jealous, then, absolutely but then there's probably a bigger culture problem to deal with. I can't really see it exacerbating because the good thing about gamification, if it's designed properly, you can reward different groups of people by focusing on different people's strengths. It doesn't always have to be the same rewards. 

Someone who is the best photographer in the group or who is maybe the most conscientious at getting all of their admin done - they can all have different rewards and different things that they're aiming for. I should stress that gamification is not only about what games we are going to play, it's also how often we provide our employees with feedback. 

I think one of the studies showed that only 18% of employees said they felt engaged at work and didn't receive regular feedback, compared to 72% of employees who received regular feedback and felt engaged in their role. There's a clear link between receiving feedback. I wouldn't say it causes jealousy, it may surface some jealousy.

[Comment received from Claire] "A template could be a selection box of ideas, strategies, tools, games, plans, how to test and learn." 

That's a fantastic point. Are you currently looking to apply that within your business? Do you have any gamification or what are you looking to drive? 

[Comment received from Claire] "We're looking to include it as part of a challenge to get people walking."

I had a great idea on the walking. Fitbit. Another great one. We have a Monday morning meeting that everyone's just a bit like "Ah'  and we want to get everyone out and walking.

What we've done is firstly lead by example, get up and walk. We said that the person who doesn't walk has to take notes for the rest of the team and everyone hates taking notes. So everyone's out for a walk. On Teams, you can actually just get a transcript of the meeting. So we never really needed anyone to take notes in the first place. 

It could be, if you track your location and track your route as you were running. We've had a challenge on whoever draws the nicest shape. 

I'm loving the questions, keep them coming if there's anything else otherwise, just thank you so much for joining.

[Comment received from Bethany] "We've actually implemented a lot of games, which goes over well, it's just random extra activities for a social work company."

"We're a social work company, figuring out how to make the actual tasks more interesting and engaging is a bit of a challenge. A lot of paperwork involved with a significant amount of deadlines throughout the month and year. Any random ideas to make deadlines interesting?"

Give rewards for doing things before the deadline. Always. It doesn't all have to be funnelled through just one person. I think having the brunt of organising everything for an entire business is a really big challenge. I would like to share the burden.

[Comment received] "Sharing isn't possible" 

"Each case manager has 35 individuals and everyone has different needs to share is impossible." 

So it's really getting the people to go through those deadlines. I'm thinking perhaps there's a time where the team comes together before something you do that could be more rewarding and where everyone is just doing their paperwork in one go. 

I will tend to do things just because everyone else is doing them around me but when you're on a screen and no one can see what you're doing anymore, not everyone has got their head down and you have no idea what anyone else is doing. I mean, Netflix is just more, more tempting in that time so perhaps having, this is our admin hour, we all sit down as a team together, we do it and then we go and do something fun.

Written by Amy Roberts

Content creator forever living out a suitcase, eating vegetables, and ogling over indoor plants.

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