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Is gamification the solution to employee disengagement?

Posted: 26 September 2014

Employee disengagement has long been a burden on the shoulders of many leaders, but does gamification really hold the key to making this a thing of the past?

Having been very much a hot topic in recent years, gamification has promised to be a ‘wonder tool’ for companies struggling to engage their employees. As a concept, it involves applying game like mechanisms and game-based thinking into non-game applications to facilitate learning and encourage motivation. In terms of the workplace then, its purpose in essence, is to transform employees approach to their standard day-to-day duties by offering something a little more inspiring to accelerate employee and business performance alike.

So, how does it work?

Its alleged effectiveness is based on the similarities that games share with real life work scenarios. Just as games have levels, scores and points, the average job will have targets, incentives and promotions; an unassuming match.

It offers then, to transform the way employees interact with their company. From making those mundane tasks that bit more interesting, to helping employees advance their skills and by producing continuous feedback.  It adds something different to the general repetitive duties employees often find difficult to get enthusiastic about and many companies claim that this is a great way of encouraging their staff to think a little differently about their working life and boost work performance.

Over the past few years, companies from an assortment of industries have attempted to harness the alleged benefits of gamification. Delliotte sought gamification in a bid to augment its’ leadership development program. The program offered digital executive training to more than 50,000 executives at more than 150 companies worldwide, enabling executives to develop their management and leadership skills whilst also connecting them within a community of business leaders, but Delliotte couldn’t get people to log on and engage with the content. As such, Delliotte leveraged three game mechanics; Ranks and Rewards, Missions and Leaderboards and applied these to its leadership development program.

The results were astounding. Within 6 months, a user unlocked the Leadership Academy Graduate achievement, a milestone that they expected to take 12 months for an average user.  Moreover, user retention increased, with +46.6% users returning daily; a fantastic result.

But is this a viable long-term solution or merely a novelty that will wear off and become increasingly ineffective as time goes on?

Earlier this year, a study by research firm Gallup found there to be twice as many actively disengaged employees worldwide as there are engaged employees and that only a meagre 17 per cent of UK employees would describe themselves as engaged. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that such a large number of companies have looked to gamification in an effort to turn around such a poor figure. Microsoft, Samsung, Universal Music Group and Marketo are just some of a growing list of companies who make use of it to boost engagement amongst their employees and, a growing list it is, the gamification market is estimated to grow from $421.3 million in 2013 to $5.502 billion in 2018!

In addition to there being such a need to engage employees, its popularity has also come from its cost effectiveness. It offers a relatively cheap alternative to the standard motivators used by companies; status, power and recognition are merely virtual rewards, which scale cheaply and easily against bonuses and pay rises. It also promises to please the growing millennial workforce, who desire greater engagement whilst being largely more technologically savvy than their baby boomer counterparts.

But whilst some companies have deemed gamifcation to be a management evolution, others have referred to it as no more than a gimmick and whilst it certainly seems capable of engaging employees in the short term, what about in the long term? Even the most rudimentary of game mechanics like badges and points appear capable of producing a sudden spike in user interest, but can such interest in a gamified application be sustained over a prolonged period of time?

Moreover, is it something for everyone? Different people are motivated in different ways and whilst the recognition that comes from holding first place on some sort of leadership board may motivate one person, that’s not to say it will motivate another.

What do you think? Tweet us your thoughts @RethinkRec.