How Employee Engagement Can Benefit From Gamification in HR

Ankit Shah of Dopamine Agency considers the potential of gamification for HR and employee share plans

Words: Ankit Shah, Dopamine Agency
Illustration: Ross Daniel Russell

Gamification, the concept of incorporating game design elements into everyday aspects of life, has been on the rise over the last few years. Ankit Shah of Dopamine Agency explains how gamification can be used to boost employee engagement.

There are two primary tenets of gamification I come back to time and time again in my work. The first thing that gamification is really good for is helping constituents understand progress: it is a very effective mechanism to help establish goals and objectives, and to help people in their progress to achieving them. The second thing it’s really good at is feedback: gamification is extremely powerful for offering direct feedback that helps people to understand their progress and performance.

One of our recent projects at Dopamine has been to reorient the onboarding process for KPMG. We designed a complete experience for their employees, now being debuted around 140 different countries in order to help them understand their inter-firm knowledge. The more you learn about different business or protocols within the company, the more progress you can make through the system. We’re also tracking our data on the project and it is being shared with the Harvard Business School which will publish a paper based on the results.

We’re also about to debut a large-scale financial literacy-learning program aimed at middle schools and high schools that we are particularly proud of because it has a very social mission behind it. Learning is not a linear process – people learn in a multitude of ways, so going through this holistic experience allows them to understand how well they’re performing. It includes game based grading, which allows cognitive feedback, and gives players iterative chances to do better and improve their knowledge base.

Gamification and Share Plans

One big thing we’ve noticed is that at times there is difficulty with translating the benefits that an individual could engender at different points in their lives or careers through share plans. This is especially true among younger generations. The way gamification is liable to be helpful in this scenario calls back to progress, or helping people understand what the future and their contribution to it can look like. In the short term, it’s extremely helpful.

If you think about concepts like progress and feedback, they are shared with your manager or the rest of the team. So there’s social currency and social credence that comes along with it. Because recognition within gamification is really powerful, being rewarded for things that you’ve done in a non-tangible way can also be very motivating and powerful.

The gamified experience we’ve created for KPMG is very much like this; the concept of having both regional (country-based) and global leaderboards – a score-based system that tracks employee progress within an organisation in a similar fashion to sports and online games – is extremely motivating for people. Their performance is viewed not only by the managers, but also senior executives and co-workers, and it’s created a situation where people try harder and work harder time and time again because they want to perform.

Wait and See

In the financial industry specifically, gamification is still a burgeoning field. Financial services tend to be on the lagging edge of innovation, because they function in highly regulated environments, often taking a ‘wait and see’ approach. But if you’re increasing performance, increasing productivity, then they’ll eventually get there.

A number of financial service operations have seen success as early adopters, however; Simple Banking has a fair amount of good implementation, especially on the progress and feedback side; BBVA, a large Spanish banking group, has won awards for its BBVA Game gamification program, which is aimed around loyalty and customer rewards that focus on engagement with the bank itself. Likewise, Bulgarian bank DSK has launched a successful program called DSK Gameo, which is about helping people save over a long term. MassMutual in the US has also created gamified financial literacy programs that have proven successful.

Gamification is extremely powerful for offering direct feedback that helps people to understand their progress

Gamification and HR

The strongest use of gamification can probably be found in the field of HR. The way HR companies primarily think about gamification is helping to create clear objectives, clear goals, and helping to create the pathway to meeting them. Points systems are definitely a way to go about doing this, but it’s about more than just the basic mechanics of points and leaderboards, it’s about intrinsically what makes games interesting.

When you study games, you find a couple of things of notable interest: they have fixed toolsets so people know exactly what they’re doing and how they should be doing it; they have the ability to allow you to move forward and make progress; and there’s consistent feedback in terms of the worlds or understanding that you’ve reached your goal. HR initiatives help people create journeys towards certain specific and delineated goals.

The need for feedback

When we’re thinking about employee engagement, what we’re really thinking about is how to make things more interesting, and get people to be more committed. If the process and the work itself are not that great to begin with, it’s very hard to drive further results there. The one thing that gamification can do, and I go back to these same points because they are so important, is that it can give you means for feedback and progress to tell you if you’re progressing in your job.

One of the biggest things with employee engagement is that often people don’t have proper feedback from their managers, and because they don’t have that, they don’t really understand if they’re doing a good job or a bad job, or performing adequately. If you’re able to offer that to your employees, it’s been found empirically that engagement can increase substantially. These are the core principles that make gamification so powerful when it comes to employee engagement. If people are more engaged with their work and not their coffee break or surfing the web, then obviously their productivity will go up.

Status, Access, Power and… Stuff

The issue of retaining talent in an organisation, meanwhile, goes back to the topic of intangible rewards. At Dopamine, we have an internal model called SAPS, which stands for ‘status, access, power and stuff’. Stuff is really the only tangible thing in our model but everything else – having employees feel that they are valued and have status; that they have autonomy and access; and the power to create decisions – all of these things are extremely powerful. There’s been some significant research that shows that after a certain dropping-off point in terms of salary, what people start to care more about is their autonomy, their power, and their ability to be recognised for good work, and this is the area in which gamification is most allowed to shine.

About the author

Ankit Shah is managing director at New York-based behavioural design agency Dopamine, whose clients have included the likes of ESPN, Time Inc., Bentley, Viacom, Bank of America, Fidelity, Coca-Cola, Saatchi & Saatchi, Disney and Google.

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