Use Games to Reward Employees - dummies

By Bob Kelleher

Even the mere hope of receiving a reward — even a really lousy one — can motivate an employee to perform a desired behavior. Why? Oddly, it’s not the reward itself that’s motivating; instead, it’s the achievement tied to the reward. That is, the reward acts to validate the achievement. It makes sense, then, that successful gamification hinges on the use of rewards (preferably good ones).

In a workplace gamification program, rewards can be divided into three categories:

  • Recognition

  • Privileges

  • Monetary rewards

Reward employees by conferring recognition

Pretty much everyone wants to be recognized for their achievements. Indeed, recognition is part of just about every type of competition on the planet. Recognition for completing a task or accomplishing a goal not only feeds this basic human need, it also encourages engagement and increases repetition — both of which are probably in your list of business objectives.

In a gamified environment, you can recognize your users in a couple different ways:

  • Reputation: For some users, it’s all about reputation. These employees are intrinsically motivated by esteem. They want to be respected. Rewarding these users for their expertise is key — assuming, of course, that their expertise relates to your area of business. By rewarding employees for expertise, you enable them to develop a reputation.

  • Status: Whereas reputation is tied to expertise and a body of work, status refers to the relative position of one individual compared to another, with those having a higher position or rank being conferred greater status. In a gamified environment, status is often tied to valuable behaviors that support a company’s business objectives.

A great way to confer status (and, for that matter, reputation) is through the use of badges. If you were ever a Boy Scout or a Girl Scout, then you’re already familiar with the idea behind badges, such as the Stamp Collecting, Bugling, and ever-useful Nuclear Science merit badges available to scouts nationwide. To quote Merriam-Webster, a badge is “an emblem awarded for a particular accomplishment.”

Badges can be physical (like the aforementioned merit badges, which are sewn onto scout uniforms) or virtual (like the badges earned on various websites). As you can guess, the latter is more common in gamification programs — even the most loyal employees typically don’t want to sew badges on their clothes.

Reward employees by giving privileges

Although some users prefer to be rewarded with reputation or status, others will be more motivated by receiving privileges. These may include the following:

  • VIP access: Giving your top employees access to key personnel is a great way to reward, engage, and motivate them. For example, you may offer lunch with the chairman of the board, general manager, or district VP to employees who reach a certain score in your gamification program.

  • Moderation powers: One way to reward users is to empower them. For example, on an intranet forum, you may endow your top thread starters with the power to moderate the site. This is doubly excellent, because the user is typically thrilled to take on this responsibility, and you essentially receive free labor. As Wikipedia has taught us, people will work for nothing if they’re intrinsically motivated to do so. Giving users powers over the general riffraff is also a way of conferring status.

  • Stronger votes: To quote George Orwell: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Which is why you may decide to give some of your users stronger votes — on an intranet site in which content is voted up or down, for example.

Reward employees by giving monetary rewards

Some users will certainly be satisfied with recognition and privileges, but others may hold out for more tangible benefits. These benefits are typically monetary in nature but could also involve free stuff.

These are not bonus programs, and the monetary rewards should always be nominal in value. As the Enrons of the world have proven, if you inject too much value in rewards, you’ll encourage cheating.

Here are a couple examples of monetary rewards:

  • Discounts: If you’re in the business of manufacturing or selling a consumer product, you may give top performers a special price break on items in your catalog.

  • Prizes: Prizes can be literally anything, from a wee food item to an American Express gift certificate. But the easiest type of prize to give is whatever you have on hand. Are you an electronics retailer? Then electronics are the logical choice as prizes.

    Another good type of prize is one that broadcasts your brand — say, a coffee mug or baseball cap with your logo. This is a form of tri‐branding, where you’ll be encouraging key stakeholders to brand on your firm’s behalf.

Although prizes generate buzz and excitement, offering even humble amounts can be expensive in the aggregate, and may not result in a lasting engagement or even positive feelings on the part of employees.

This is especially true if the prize is stuff rather than an experience. That is, if someone wins a TV, that TV will likely decrease in value (emotionally speaking) over time. In contrast, if someone wins a weekend away, the trip will increase in value due to the happy memories that result.