by Marc-André Lanciault | November 20, 2014
Companies are looking for new ways to engage and recognize their employees without necessarily involving monetary rewards. One way to do so is through the use of gamification -- applying game design and mechanics in non-game contexts. Gamification concepts are becoming increasingly popular and are turning up in a wide range of activities.

For example, you can download an app on your smartphone to track your gym activities. Every time you go to the gym, you can record your workout and the goals you've reached. The application itself will reward you with congratulations or with a badge. You can even compete with your friends to see who does better. That's a good example of game concepts in a non-game setting.

Gamification is a creative process that can be tailored to fit organizations that are trying to solve issues such as burnout, absenteeism, and high turnover. Companies often want employees to "buy in" by identifying with the vision and the culture of the organization, and that starts with having a rewarding experience on the job. Happy employees tend to be more loyal and productive.

Implementing such programs requires a culture change for some organizations but it's not such a big step when you think about it. People today are very comfortable using Facebook, smartphones, and apps, so this is not about reinventing the wheel; it's about using something they are already familiar with and which already works.

Among 18- to 24-year-olds, research shows that 88 percent play a digital game at least once a month. They were raised in that context, and it's what they expect. According to the technology research group Gartner Inc., by the end of 2014, 70 percent of the world's top 2,000 organizations will have at least one gamified program within their companies. It's clear that with the advent of gamification, all kinds of new avenues are opening up to incentivize employees.

Let's say that a company wants to encourage its employees to suggest ideas that might improve the business. A Web portal can be set up with a "Submit Idea" button. A more gamified option, however, could be to add a newsfeed to the application so that every time employees go onto the portal, employees can see what their other colleagues are proposing.

When someone posts an idea, it's displayed on the newsfeed for all to see. They can "Like it" or comment on it so they are immediately able to provide feedback. Every time an idea gets a "Like," the employee receives a badge. And every time 10 people comment on that idea, he or she receives another badge. The more ideas the employee publishes, the more badges are awarded.

Badges become virtual trophies. A leader board on the website tracks who has compiled the most badges and what types of badges they are. One badge might go to the most popular idea, another might be awarded to the person who was the first to log in on the platform on that day -- an Early Bird Badge. We can push it further by saying that if you submit 10 ideas, you can unlock a different kind of badge -- such as the 10 Ideas Achievement Award, for example.

The badge system creates friendly competition between people in order to get more discussion and engagement on a particular idea. If you just had a button on the website asking for ideas, the participation rate would not be as good. The fun aspect and the intrinsic reward are important to employees; they are being recognized by their co-workers.

Let's say you want to measure your employees' knowledge of all the specific aspects of your product. You can give them a conventional quiz and compile the results, or you can do it with a game aspect to it so that every time they take a quiz they get a badge or they get points they can redeem at an online boutique.

This is more of an extrinsic reward because they're getting something real. If someone scores 100 percent on the quiz they can brag about it, they can compete with others, and they can get points to buy something nice.

Just for the fun of it, you can add another element to the quiz by asking, "Are you smarter than a fifth grader?" A teacher asks you questions and you can select from a number of choices. You have a few tools to help you, but each one of them can be used only once. One of the tools is to cheat and look up the answer, another is to get extra help by deleting two of the four possible answers. This is a way to make it more engaging.

The popularity of such initiatives can be remarkable. Two or three years ago, when you looked at a company's intranet, you may have found conventional quizzes with standard questions, answers, and results that drew response rates between 30 and 40 percent. Today, with gamification, response rates can run between 70 and 80 percent.

Another incentive is to run auctions. Let's say you want to reward people who do something great -- maybe they have the greatest number of satisfied clients or the most sales. Instead of giving them prizes or direct rewards, you give them virtual points.

They can use those points to bid on products in an online auction. Perhaps there's an iPad in the auction and it starts at 800 points. I may have 1,000 points to use. When my colleague next to me gets points and wants that iPad, he might bid 810. I'll receive an email saying I've been outbid -- it's a bit like eBay. We can compete to see who's going to win the prize.

What's important for the company is that these are virtual points and, at the end of the process, the only cost is for the iPad. The engagement of employees can be leveraged without much additional cost.

There's a physiological aspect to this as well. Every time you unlock some new reward, the brain gets a shot of dopamine -- the neurotransmitter that controls rewards and pleasure in the brain. With every step forward there is an incentive to reach another goal.  

Marc-André Lanciault founded Karelab in 2003 (formerly named INBOX) and is a certified recognition professional. With a background in Web technology, he specializes in the creation of employee recognition and engagement programs. Karelab helps large companies increase their employees' engagement and performance by developing adapted strategies, building a customized recognition platform, and implementing and managing an online rewards boutique. Karelab helps companies with methods based on gamification, appreciation, interaction, and rewards, all of which are integrated into its customized platform.