Jobs as Games: Implications for Employee Engagement

Jobs as Games: Implications for Employee Engagement

A few months ago, I tweeted “What if work is like an online game and how would it impact employee engagement?” Many people favorited this tweet and retweeted it. It must have struck a chord.

Really, what if work is like an online game? How fun and engaging would it be? Wouldn’t it be cool to design jobs such that they feel like online games?

According to Gallup’s most recent workforce survey, only 33% of U.S. employees are engaged. One way to improve employee engagement is to start with job design and engage employees with what they do on a daily basis.

Here are some tips for making a job more like an online game:

Have clear goals and a clear path forward. When you play an online game, you know your goals – either to find the secret weapon so you can vanquish the villain or clear as many candies as possible. And you know what you need to do to achieve your goals. Likewise, when employees know clearly what is expected of them and they have the resources they need to perform their jobs effectively, they will accomplish their goals.

Provide frequent feedback. If you’ve ever played an online game, you know when you did well (e.g., an instant burst of celebratory music) and when you did not (e.g., you only have one life left!). Similarly, providing regular feedback to employees will help them perform their jobs more effectively. Employees will learn what works and what does not, thereby reducing errors and becoming more productive in their jobs. Employees at Ritz Carlton, one of the best companies to work for, receive frequent feedback from both their managers and guests. Frontline employees know first hand what will delight their guests. And employees are empowered to provide the best quality service to ensure that their guests have the best experience while staying there.

Make it increasingly challenging. In an online game, you progress towards increasingly challenging tasks. That’s what hooks players to continue playing. Likewise, think about how to make a job increasingly challenging and interesting. Maybe you need to expand the scope of the project for your employees. Maybe it’s giving employees the space and breathing room to come up with creative solutions to existing problems. Maybe it’s sending an employee on a “tour-of-duty” within your organization to prepare him/her for a higher-level position. In other words, involve your employees in making their day-to-day work a flow experience that prepares them for increasing levels of responsibility.

Recognize employees and make it social. If you’ve played any online game, you know that you earn gold stars, badges, coins, and all kinds of treasures if you meet or exceed your goals. You may feel generous and help your friends out by giving 50 coins or 3 lives. Likewise, when employees achieve their goals or exceed your expectation, recognize their achievements. Many organizations are using badges and gamification principles to recognize employees for achieving goals or mastering skills. Employees will feel a sense of accomplishment when they are recognized for their achievements and earn peer recognition within your organization.

Encourage employees to reach out to their communities for help.
 If you run out of life in Candy Crush, you can either ask your friends for more lives or buy some lives to continue playing. Many online games build in a social component and encourage players to engage with their social network to play the game together. Similarly, when employees are faced with a big challenge or come up against a tight deadline, encourage your employees to reach out to their colleagues for help. Create and foster an organizational culture where it is okay for employees to seek assistance. When the project is complete on time and on budget, recognize all employees who contributed. Encourage employees to show off their recognition to their social network, both within and outside the organization.

Jobs don’t have to be boring. With some creativity and a willingness to try out a new paradigm, you can design jobs that are fun, challenging, and engaging.

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Pi Wen Looi, PhD. Pi Wen is the Founder and President of Novacrea, LLC, a northern California talent management consulting firm. Named one of the most important voices in employee engagement by TechnologyAdvice, she is an expert in employee engagement and employee research methodology. She helps her clients ask the right questions, connect the dots, find insights from their survey results, and take action. She uses a design-thinking approach to unleash employee creativity and generate innovative solutions. Pi Wen brings 20 years of talent management consulting experience and research expertise to improve employee communications, increase employee engagement, and enable her clients to create breakthrough results. Her clients include Boeringher Ingelhiem, Cisco, DiversityInc, LSG Sky Chef, Mizuho OSI, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Salt Lake County, and west elm, among others. She is a senior advisor for Imperative, a start-up that helps organizations shape their culture and practices to increase the number of purpose-oriented employees. She is a speaker at multiple conferences and the head judge of the first-ever Employee Engagement Hackathon, held in San Francisco. Most recently, she was interviewed by Security Management on the trends of employee engagement. She has published articles in The Human Factor,’s Recognition and Engagement Essentials, and more. Her research has been cited in several industry books, including Leadership and Talent in Asia: How the best companies delivery extraordinary performance. Pi Wen earned her PhD and master’s degrees in applied quantitative psychology from Ohio University and her B.S. in mathematics from the National University of Singapore. She’s a member of the Association for Talent Management in Sacramento (ATD) and an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Master of Learning and Organizational Design and the School of Professional Studies. When she is not consulting with clients, she enjoys taking photos of people and buildings. Connect with her on LinkedIn:

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