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Why companies should consider the gamification of work

One item on every HR agenda is employee retention. Many companies have to deal with high employee turnover rates — and the costs that come along. All the efforts put into attracting the best talent are in vain if the new employees choose to leave their positions soon after joining their new organization.

Replacing an employee is usually more expensive than offering a few incentives to make them stay. But these incentives have to be tailored to the needs of workers; otherwise, they'll just add up to the already too many costs.

Why employees job-hop

In order to solve a problem, one needs to understand what causes it. The problem is that people job-hop now more than companies were used to a few years ago. And there are many reasons why this happens.

First, there's the economy. Long gone are the days when one income could support a family and the household. Nowadays families need two sources of income, and some can barely make it month over month. So if one employer pays more for the same type of job, the temptation is real for an employee to job hop.

Then, there's this idea of making an impact — mostly spread among millennials, the largest generation of the workforce. Young people want to make an impact at their workplace. They want to see how they positively influence their team and their organization, and they have little patience to see these results. This can be a good thing, or a bad thing; but it happens nonetheless. And managers have to deal with it.

Last but not least, people have this innate need of trying out new things. In other words, we're curious. Spending too much time doing the same thing is not appealing to anyone, no matter their age. And on top of that, newly grads are still figuring out what to do with their lives. With the right training, employees know they can change not only jobs, but industries as well.

Keeping these ideas in mind, what can companies do to fight low employee retention rates?

Well, they could get gamified. Bare with me on this idea.

Game over! Start new game!

The use of gamification in business training is a tried and true strategy of getting high engagement rates from the part of employees. When implemented right in a training program, gamification improves the attitude towards learning and keeps employees hooked on training activities.

A little competition hasn't hurt any team, and being able to gather points for new mastered knowledge, collect badges to showcase new acquired skills, or unlock extra modules to gain extra competences makes employees more motivated to pay attention to each learning module and finish a training course.

But what matters even more is the fact that they can make mistakes and try again. Employees can test even the wildest ideas in a gamified learning environment. Whenever they lose, they'll remember what they did wrong; whenever they win, they'll remember what they did right. Failure just doesn't come with a high price like in real life.

If including gaming principles and game-based mechanisms in online training yields great results in terms of engagement and learning retention rates, could entire companies get gamified in the hope of lowering employee turnover rates?

The gamification of work

What if employees could try out new things once in a while, without the risk of losing their current jobs?

What if a salesperson could try the "game" of Marketing, and spend some time there, focusing on social media? What if a finance person could try the "game" of Operations and spend some time in that department? What if a web developer could try the "game" of Sales and work to convince customers to buy the product he's coding?

You get the point. The gamification of work would mean to allow employees to try out different jobs in different departments, within the same company. After a set period of time, they could go back to the position they held previously, or move to the new one. It's like implementing a rotation program, but better — by adding gamification to it.

The salesperson might like what she learns about social media marketing, might contribute with great ideas to improve processes, and might want to jump over in the marketing department for good.

The finance person might better understand why Operations works as they do, what less-than-obvious factors influence the price of the company's products or services, might share a few opinions on what could be done better, and might use the new knowledge to adapt and better collaborate with the Operation department once they go back to Finance.

The web developer might realize his persuasion skills need some polishing and that he's better at writing code than at convincing people to buy it. Next time, he could try writing a few posts on the company blog for a change.

In each of these examples the company gets new additions to a department or another, and/or employees with improved productivity when they go back to their original positions.

At the same time, employees develop their skill sets and appreciate their company more for allowing them to try out a new career without jeopardizing their current jobs. Not only that, but whether or not they make the transition to a new department, they are determined to continue to work hard — and for a longer period of time — for the same employer.

Could this work for every company?

As noble as this idea of the gamification of work could be, we must remember that one size does not fit all.

Some companies have better chances of implementing it successfully, while others will probably fail flat. Small business organizations, where employees are Jacks of all trades in their departments, already make them try out new things; but the fun and satisfaction of curiosity are not there. Companies that operate in high-risk environments might better not allow a receptionist to test leaking gas pipes. Plus, seniority is not something to be acquired in a few days, nor in a few months; even the most enthusiastic marketing person can't create a logo the same way as an experienced graphic designer.

But many companies operating in the knowledge-based economy could do this gamification of work. Questions like how to fill the gap left by an experienced employee moving on to pastures new in a different department for a set period of time do have answers. Google Inc is known to have a successful employee retention program for quite a while now. Hootsuite followed through; check out this piece written by Hootsuite CEO on why he started training employees to leave their jobs.

Will your company consider the gamification of work?

FREE Resource: How to make learning engaging with gamification