by Gabe Zichermann | June 01, 2014
Let’s be honest about many workplace incentive programs: They’re boring and repetitive. You worked here for five years and always had decent annual reviews? Here’s your iPad pre-loaded with workplace applications. It’s the same gift given to every staff member regardless of their job position. While an iPad is nice and can be a boost to productivity, it isn’t tailored to the employee or an achievement beyond how long they have stayed at the job.

An attractive alternative to such incentive programs based on giving tangible gifts is a gamified approach where you provide participants with goals and rewards that are more tailored to their wants and goals. Gamification is used by firms such as Delta for employee training and incentivization and offers a way to introduce fun to tasks that might otherwise seem dull and routine.

Here are six best practices for integrating gamification for incentive programs:

1. Follow SAPS for the best rewards. The rewards given for completion of gamified campaigns should follow SAPS, which is Status, Access, Power and Stuff. This is a priority ranking of the value of different rewards, with Status (think higher tier airline fliers boarding first) being the top reward. Most employee incentive programs don’t recognize people very well. Employees want visible recognition from their peers and superiors, and the best gamification campaigns will have built-in achievement acknowledgement.

2. Shorten the recognition cycle. Firms need to move beyond the “Employee of the Month” plaque that sits in the lobby. Recognition in the workplace needs to involve more people and occur more frequently, but it must be earned in order to hold true value. Weekly recognition and incentives provide employees a chance to start the week fresh and work hard towards a SAPS structured goal.

3. Match rewards to staff members. Perhaps customer service staff would most appreciate a half day off of work, while development engineers might value paid off site training that will lead them towards a technical certification and a future raise in pay. Whatever the actual reward, make sure it relates to what the employees value. Consider conducting a gamified employee survey to help determine some specifics.

4. Promote mastery. When confronted with a game challenge, people are often more satisfied with mastery of the game than completion. It provides a deeper sense of accomplishment, especially when their mastery is shared in some way with the group. Gamified incentives should be setup so the participants can build up their proficiency levels at a reasonable pace, because if it’s too slow they’re discouraged and too fast and they lose interest. 

5. Encourage healthy competition. Employees enjoy competitive environments where there is some fun and recognition. Incentives are typically valued more when they are “won” and employees will take more pride in their accomplishments if they work hard to achieve them.. It’s important to structure the competition with multiple tiers and related rewards. You don’t want two or three standout staff members to run away with the competition, and then have 20 other employees lose interest in the entire process.

6. Introduce novelty for long-term engagement. Weekly recognition and achievements are great, but employees need novelty and change in order to stay engaged. Gamification should be kept fresh by tweaking the “game” itself or by shifting the focus from one area of the employee’s work to another. The rewards should also shift over time to encourage participation.

Workplace incentive programs can be greatly improved through the introduction of gamification which provides the employees with frequent and meaningful recognition. Done correctly, gamified incentives can keep employees engaged on their daily tasks, allowing them to better serve the needs of other internal staff and customers.

Gabe Zichermann is the chairman of the upcoming GSummit  (taking place June 10-13, 2014), where top gamification experts across industries will gather to share knowledge and insight about customer and employee engagement and loyalty. He is also an author, highly rated public speaker and entrepreneur whose latest book, The Gamification Revolution, looks at how leaders are leveraging gamification strategy to defeat their competition.