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Can Turning Work Into Play Turn Us Into More Driven Employees?

27/10/2014 18:40 | Updated 27 December 2014

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Global Healthcare Congress in Washington D.C.

A major theme at this year's event was corporate wellness and how employees - a company's most important asset - could be better taken care of by businesses. Many exhibitors at the Congress were on hand to demonstrate some aspect of corporate wellness from fitness initiatives to technology-enabled programmes.

One particular corporate wellness strategy that caught my attention was the gamification of programmes. The notion behind it is that employees are rewarded by their employer for doing different tasks.

This isn't only related to physical activities but can be as simple as employers rewarding an employee for complementing a colleague. One interesting example I came across was by home-delivery company Hubbub, which has partnered with brands like Amazon. Companies can use Hubbub to reward employees with Amazon vouchers when they achieve certain goals.

Then there was UtiliFit, creators of a new corporate fitness app called Zombies - an interactive game where employees "stay together to survive." A zombie-inspired spin on old pedometer programmes, the game involves employees taking part in socially-connected challenges where they can track how many steps or kilometers they've done to escape the "zombies".

In theory, gamification programmes have the potential to foster innovation within employees. By applying game theory to work practices, employees will naturally become more driven and will find more effective solutions and work processes in order to win their reward. Several companies in the UK have already experimented with gamification in the workplace to drive innovation within the workforce.

One noticeable example is the U.K's Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). To foster a culture of innovation among its employees, the government body turned to game mechanics. It developed an online ideas-management platform dubbed "Idea Street" where employees could contribute ideas and collaborate with colleagues to bring those ideas to fruition. Those employees who participated in the process were rewarded via a points system. For DWP, the initiative has been a resounding success - generating more than 1,400 ideas, with 1,000 currently active and 63 ideas eventually implemented into the organisation.

O2, the European broadband and Telecommunications company, wanted to be more innovative in its recruitment process so it implemented gamification into its approach. Applicants had to participate in a role-playing game online which involved answering questions posed in the game, which addressed topics around values and motivations. Only candidates that provided satisfactory answers could go on to apply for a position at the company. Applying game theory can make the all-important recruitment process even more engaging.

Despite the above examples of gamification successfully driving innovation within different parts of the workforce, it isn't guaranteed that such initiatives will always galavanise employees. In fact, if gamification programmes are not implemented properly, it can end up being counter-productive by alienating employees and needlessly complicating established work processes.

Omnicare, the US-based pharmaceutical company, discovered the pitfalls of poorly implemented gamification initiatives. In order to improve its long helpdesk waiting times and enhance efficiency, Omnicare introduced a game which rewarded employees with cash if they achieved the fastest time. Unfortunately for Omnicare, employees did not take to the game and its implementation, reportedly, led to increased employee turnover and a fall in customer satisfaction. A reason sighted for the failure of Omincare's gamification initiative was that it felt too "Big Brother" with employees viewing the game as being too intrusive.

My experience at this year's Global Healthcare Congress showed me that the wellness of employees is crucial for a company to remain competitive and that gamification of work programmes has the power to make employees more driven which can lead to innovative ideas and solutions. However, employers must ensure that gamification initiatives are well thought out, meet the company and employees' needs and are engaging enough that they will spur employees on. After all, employee satisfaction isn't something a company should play with.