Whatever happened to gamification in HR?

Jess Fuhl
Published on 27th August 2018
4 min read

Is gamification in HR all played out?

Ask anyone what’s hot in the HR tech sector and chances are, gamification always comes up. In fact, it has been for a while.

A couple of years ago it was one of the biggest trends to watch. However, fast forward to now – is that really still the case?

How prolific actually is take up of gamification in HR? Does it help HR and People leaders to solve real business problems? Has it changed the HR and People function in the way that some predicted? We set out to find out.

What the HR sector says about gamification – time to level up?

Gamification is a ‘win-win situation’, with large companies such as Accenture, Deloitte, GE, Ford, Google, and Microsoft using gamification principles to change the way they work. That was the view a couple of years ago across the sector.

Many felt that gamification had implications for recruitment, benefits, health and wellness and employee engagement, and that adoption rates would start to increase as companies demonstrate real employee engagement levels that directly correspond to gamification principles.

Yet, now, some are beginning to think of gamification as – perhaps controversially – the big ‘yawn’. It’s the topic always talked about, but yet to materialize into real value for HR teams.

Is the answer somewhere in the middle? Engagement guru Josh Bersin regularly refers to gamification in learning and development, as just one of many options – but an accepted and widely used one at that.

He also points out that employees have just 1% of their week available for learning and development. With just 24 minutes per week on average to engage with training and skills updates, gamification approaches mean employers can more cleverly engage workers, whenever those magic minutes are free.

How is gamification being used in companies?

The big question is, who’s really doing it? What’s it achieving? Where are companies putting gamification to work today, and with what business results? We found five examples that demonstrate its tangible results in action.

Firstly, PWC Hungary launched its Multipoly online game in 2015 to boost recruitment and retention. It sets lifelike business challenges in a virtual environment, giving candidates and employees chance to test their skills and aptitude and receive feedback and development suggestions based on their in-game performance.

PWC reports that engagement with Multipoly grew the candidate pool by 190%, increased interest in working at PWC by 78% and achieved smoother transitions for new hires into the PWC culture.

Google is always pioneering new approaches in HR and recruitment, and gamification hasn’t been overlooked by the company. They use it to incentivize employees to claim their travel expenses promptly.

Employees receive an allowance for each location they visit on a work trip. Now, in the gamified system, if they don’t spend their full allowance, Google lets them choose whether to add the remainder to their own pay check or give it to charity. Within six months, they had 100% employee compliance.

Deloitte New Zealand also used a gamified, interactive version of a recruiting video, ‘Will you fit into Deloitte?’ to take potential candidates inside their company culture and explain the firm’s services, giving them the role of a new Deloitte employee and offering choice points to make right or wrong decisions.

The video was optimized for all devices and averaged a viewing time of over four minutes, outperforming similar, linear content on YouTube.

It’s not just recruitment and compliance where gamification is used though – it can be used to drive adoption of new technology, too. MHS Homes used gamification to help get employees into the habit of using a new people directory. They created a fact-finding treasure hunt to encourage them to explore the tool and increase their understanding and buy-in.

Finally, the public sector is getting in on the act too. The Department for Work and Pensions launched ‘Idea Street’, an app to get employees collaborating and sharing ideas, for greater engagement with the business and each other.

They post ideas, get quick feedback and earn badges that move them up the leader board. In the first 18 months, 4,000 employees generated 1,400 new ideas, leading to 63 implemented projects that improve the way the DWP works.

So, gamified techniques are clearly being used across sectors and in different ways, with tangible results – be it for compliance, recruitment or engagement.

What does good game play look like?

What are the key success factors for gamification applications in HR, though? They need to be accessible, convenient, giving access to rapid-fire knowledge in the same way employees expect it in real life through on-the-job google searches, for example.

As Josh Bersin says: ‘We are no longer satisfied with exchanging the classroom for an online but still deskbound environment.’ Gamification makes learning easy and incentivizes behaviors across a company in an accessible way, if it’s used correctly.

Understand what motivates your employees – use gaming structures and techniques that they’re genuinely interested in. For example, in a technical environment, people may be motivated by gaining profile badges that recognize their expertize when they contribute to a knowledge exchange forum.

Tie gamification directly to your business strategy. Invest in apps and platforms that deliver gamification in key areas that support the company plan, from training and development to administrative efficiency.

Make it mobile and adaptive so that people can access gamified tools whenever they get a minute to learn or input, wherever they are and whatever device they have to hand.

Specify and design thoroughly if you want ROI – as Bill Roberts says in HR Magazine, ‘Game mechanics cannot be sprinkled on learning programmes like nuts on ice cream’.

Use all the data and metrics you gather through digital gamification to evaluate, improve and understand more about what motivates your employees.

Game on for gamification in HR?

Gamification is already proving its worth in critical HR functions, including recruitment, on-boarding, talent management, employee engagement and process management.

It also provides invaluable data about how employees work and what motivates them, providing insight to shape future people programmes that will differentiate employers through the employee experience they offer.

In learning and development, employees want untethered, on demand, collaborative and empowered solutions. Mobile and easily accessible applications of gamification tap into that need.

In training and development, it helps employees at all levels consolidate and test their learning. We need to do all we can to make that time count.

However, many in the sector recognize that whilst much of the research indicates that more businesses and brands are using gamification to drive greater engagement with consumers than ever before, most folks in HR are just scratching the surface when it comes to applying gaming techniques and methodologies to traditional HR functions.

Really, we think the last words go to Josh Bersin on this. He suggests that gamification was in fact an accurately predicted trend: it’s just that it’s become commoditized – it’s now embedded and deployed to enhance rather than radically transform the HR landscape.

Similarly to his points about digital learning, we think gamification drives recruitment, compliance and new behaviours, but it’s a way of learning – not a type.

HR pros still need to fundamentally think about what they’re trying to achieve and use the best tools available to do this. Gamification is just another tool in the armory.

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