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Turning work into a game

Posted by on Aug 12, 2014 in HR Issues, Other | 0 comments

Canadian HR Reporter

Aug 8, 2014

Gamification can drive productivity, help alleviate tedium of boring jobs

By Sheryl Smolkin

To attract and motivate call centre staff, Allied International Credit in Newmarket, Ont., is piloting a project where employees can accumulate virtual points or badges and become eligible for prizes every time they make a call or resolve a customer service issue. Teams compete with each other and real-time results are shared online with all participants.

Borrowing elements from video games to engage users in a non-game environment is called “gamification.” While using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and connect with users is not new, until recently, it has been most prevalent in marketing and customer loyalty initiatives such as Starbucks’ smartphone-based My Rewards program.

Now, with the development of less-expensive, more sophisticated desktop and mobile apps, the focus of gamification has shifted to workplace applications.

Call centres have always measured statistics, according to Joel MacCharles, Allied’s vice-president of innovation. But customized software developed for Allied by gamification technology company Bunchball makes measurement more accessible and fun.

“The performance of people participating in the gamification project is actually based on the same metrics that we have gamified, so the instant feedback and recognition really enhance employee morale,” he says.

And because points earned are converted into one or more draw tickets for prizes such as big-screen televisions and exotic trips, top producers are not the only ones who can be big winners.

One employee handles 200 or more calls per day collecting accounts receivable for a portfolio of clients. While previously a sous chef, he was the first employee to hit more than 100,000 points and has since been promoted after just one year with the company.

The gamification of his job generates team spirit and helps to relieve the tedium of a tough
occupation, he says.

“We’re not just robots sitting on the phone and staring at a screen. The friendly competition helps us to connect on a different level with other employees.”

Revamped benefits

Tracking and incenting health and wellness was an early application of workplace gamification. After BP Canada Energy Group in Calgary went through a major restructuring, vice-president of HR Doug Dickson selected the U.S. company Virgin HealthMiles (now Virgin Pulse) to host a revamped benefits program that combines social media with physical and emotional health.

Each day, employees track their steps and other physical activity. They have all been issued a company-paid iPad and a Bluetooth-enabled pedometer that electronically transfers data to the device.

They can also allow other
associates at work to monitor their progress.

“The Virgin platform, in a sense, became the Facebook for wellness within BP Canada,” says Dickson.

Over the course of a program year, employees can get instant gratification and bragging rights as they progress through the five levels. But the big payoff is in the following year.

“Employees who reach level five (20 per cent of staff last year) can earn an additional $3,000 in the form of flexible benefits plan credits. For many people, that will buy an extra week of vacation — or the money can be used for a variety of other purposes such as topping up their RRSP,” he says.

And there’s proof the program is engaging employees because, within 48 hours of the rollout, 60 per cent of eligible employees enrolled, says Dickson. Currently, 93 per cent of employees are participating, with more than three-quarters in the “active” to “highly active” zone.

Educating, training

Another growing use of gamification is company education and training. To encourage employees of Sun Life clients to learn more about workplace retirement and savings plans and increase their financial literacy, the insurance company has also partnered with Bunchball to develop the online game “moneyUP.”

Educating employees about retirement services is a challenge, says Tom Reid, Sun Life’s vice-president of group retirement services.

However, “the game breaks down the task into a series of six levels and eight tasks per level that are progressively more challenging, but also attainable and engaging,” he says.

More than 10,000 members of Sun Life retirement plans have used the game but the most important measure of its success will be if users take subsequent action and join the plan, increase contribution levels or rethink their investment strategy.

While the game has been popular with generation Y (ages 21 to 25), it appeals to plan members of all ages, says Reid. “Over 27 per cent of our users to date have been boomers close to retirement.”

The beauty of workplace gamification is it takes content that already exists and integrates it with game mechanics to motivate employee participation, engagement and loyalty, says Rajat Baharia, founder of Bunchball in San Francisco.

“By bringing this not-so-compelling, eat-your-vegetables content into the compelling framework of a game, our clients turn ‘I have to’ into ‘I want to.’ Employees are having fun, so absorbing the desired information becomes an incidental benefit.”

Sheryl Smolkin is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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