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Engaging, motivating, and training employees are considered core goals for HR teams. Likewise, distinguishing and engaging candidates to reveal the best talent is an ongoing objective for talent acquisition teams. Gamification can help with all these and more, to deliver results, create momentum, and drive engagement and learning in both existing and prospective employees.
We’ve consulted four gamification experts: Helen Routledge, CEO of Totem Learning Limited; An Coppens, Founder of Gamification Nation; Emanuela Corazziari, Gamification Trainer at SAP; and Michiel Van Eunen, Experience Designer at Living Story, to understand the potential of gamification in HR and talent acquisition.
Gamification in practice
In simple terms, gamification involves the integration of game mechanics and design principles into non-game contexts. Gabe Zicherman and Christopher Cunningham define it as “using the way of thinking and the game rules in the game to engage the user and solve problems.” Gamification has been gaining popularity in business over the past few decades, with companies successfully using it to tap into the human psyche to engage employees and attract talent.
HR Trend Institute outlines the wide-reaching uses of gamification and how it can be applied to different areas of a business. Cisco, for example, successfully used gamification to build the social media and sales outreach skills of their employees, while also utilising a certification system and team challenges to incentivise employees. Similarly, HR Cloud analysed Ford Motor Company, “who launched a game that trained the staff about new vehicles models, configurations, and financial details, [and] saw a 417% increase in learning engagement.” Humans are naturally drawn to games and friendly competition. Introducing gamified elements to training, if done well, can invigorate the learning process and improve desired outcomes. In other words, as PwC’s Chief Learning Officer Leah Houde remarks, “business outcomes are tied to how well employees are engaged”.
For gamification to succeed, HR should clarify its purpose in the first instance. Helen Routledge explains how gamification “leverages the principles that make games captivating to transform how individuals interact with learning, training, and work processes.”
“True gamification is not just giving someone a badge for showing up to a website, it is the understanding of human engagement, motivation, desire, and mastery.”
Michiel Van Eunen also warns against overlooking the potential downsides of technology-enabled gamification, such as feelings of surveillance. He advises HR professionals to carefully select gamification tools that align with their goals and employee preferences. While the promise of gamification is compelling, Emanuela Corazziari acknowledges the need for strategic implementation. She highlights the importance of recognising that not all gamification approaches fit every organisation. Companies should always test and learn, and find the right blend of gamification techniques and traditional methods in their HR and talent acquisition practices.
Gamification can also make a significant impact on employee onboarding, with a key strength being “instant feedback”. This allows the onboarding process to happen remotely, or before a new hire starts, and in a stimulating way. It is also efficient, with less supervision required from managers in a gamified training setting, reducing the amount of resources required in the onboarding.
According to research by Glassdoor, “a strong onboarding process improves retention rates by 82% and productivity rates by 70%.” In addition, TalentLMS found that “83% of those who receive gamified training feel motivated, while 61% of those who receive non-gamified training feel bored and unproductive”. Gamification can help employees identify with a company early on, thereby increasing their motivation and ability to retain information in the onboarding process. Given that the onboarding process is key to improving retention rates, gamification can help businesses save money and integrate new hires faster and more efficiently.
Gamification can be particularly effective with younger workers, with research by Business News Daily demonstrating that “gamification is especially effective when onboarding a digitally native workforce.” As companies compete to stand out and retain a new generation of workers, it’s clear that gamified onboarding can help Gen Z employees acclimatise to an organisation extremely effectively.
When it comes to motivating employees, gamification “can increase employee engagement in an organization and can keep up employees’ efforts to continuously improve upon existing work.” The benefits of an engaging learning environment cannot be understated, and regular gamified training can motivate employees to self-develop and apply their learning. This is reinforced by An Coppens, who highlights that gamification “taps into what motivates people, offering them a sense of achievement and reward.” This is particularly effective with a younger workforce, who are accustomed to interactive and technology-driven experiences.
HR teams should ensure that the progress is being tracked, and anonymous surveys or feedback forms can be used to gauge how useful employees are finding it.
Gamification can be applied in many ways, and elements can be utilised by both large corporations with big training budgets, and smaller companies searching for cheap productivity boosts. Examples include “real-life work scenarios, microlearning-based games, and leaderboards”, which can be mixed and matched to form bespoke training programmes that suit individual organisations, teams, and budgets. With any employee engagement initiative, HR teams should ensure that the progress is being tracked, and anonymous surveys or feedback forms can be used to gauge how useful employees are finding it.
Micro-learning, where training is split into short sessions, is often linked with gamification, and Vardarlier looks at how “the use of gamification elements can encourage learning in small steps to improve their competence by identifying employees’ ways of learning and giving feedback on their progress.” Business News Daily describes how “gamification tactics, such as interactive visuals and infographics, can help people retain up to three times as much information as they would otherwise.”
Gamification in hiring
By incorporating gamified tasks in a hiring process, talent acquisition teams can create role-based scenarios to better assess a candidate’s suitability for the position. This also contributes to minimising any bias that might come from CV assessment alone. By levelling the playing field, more introverted candidates may also showcase their abilities that might otherwise be suppressed in a traditional interview setting. Overall, gamification can help employers recruit more diverse candidates and ensures that they hire the ‘best person for the job’. Routledge states, “A game doesn’t care who you are… it just wants to know can you do the job.” This equitable approach to assessment can help companies modernise their hiring practices.
To Gen Z workers, who place immense importance on work-life balance and company values, a gamified hiring process can reflect positively on an employer’s brand.
Corazziari agrees and points out that gamification allows candidates to showcase their “actual competencies and agility.” In the context of talent acquisition, this aspect is particularly valuable for candidates who are transitioning to new industries or career paths. While traditional assessments might overlook transferable skills, gamified scenarios can provide a platform for candidates to demonstrate their adaptability and relevant skills, leading to a fairer evaluation process.
To Gen Z workers, who place immense importance on work-life balance and company values, a gamified hiring process can reflect positively on an employer’s brand. Embracing ‘fun as a strategy’, as described by Vardarlier, provides an edge in the competition to attract top Gen Z talent. This is mirrored by Van Eunen, who emphasises that gamification introduces “a sense of competition and instant feedback.” This competitive element can translate seamlessly into talent acquisition, where candidates are more likely to invest time and effort into a recruitment process that resembles a game. By leveraging gamification in recruitment, employers gain a competitive edge in attracting top talent who are drawn to interactive and engaging experiences.
Employee bonding and collaboration
An article by Forbes showcases how “successful gamification can empower employees to perform their best, foster collaboration and celebrate and recognise employee achievement. Beyond these benefits, gamification can help create the all-important bond between company and employee.” When part of their regular training programme, employees work in a fun and collaborative way, for example by implementing games, challenges, quizzes, and spin-to-wins. Adding prizes can further increase the motivation and friendly competitiveness that is being sparked by gamification.
The Research Journal of Business and Management notes that the “effect of gamification is also reflected in the social lives of employees, and employees’ ability to establish communication and social relationships increases.” This is echoed by Coppens, who emphasises playfulness and its role in fostering positive work culture. Coppens notes, “Through play or playful experiences… we are tapping into a very primal instinct.” By incorporating playful elements, teams can build stronger connections, elevate morale, and reveal authentic selves.
HR and talent acquisition continue to evolve, but what is clear is that gamification has the potential to reshape work culture, streamline hiring processes, and foster team unity. With a strategic and inclusive approach to gamification, organisations can harness its potential to shape HR practices – leading to engaged employees, more effective learning outcomes, and an improved position in attracting and retaining talent.