Companies are putting a lot of effort to improve employee engagement and thus create a better working environment, reduce turnover and ultimately improve business outcomes. Nevertheless, according to recent Gallup research, only 15% of people are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work, while a stunning 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their job. Worrisome for any business leader or HR manager for sure!
In The Octalysis Group, we see a huge potential for Human Resources Gamification to bring value and help companies gain a competitive edge. We have already shared some of the amazing results we achieved with our clients, including the sales team of a major FMCG distributor in Europe. Let me share some further tips on how can you create a better employee engagement program that drives long-term motivation. I will introduce you to the magical world of Boosters…
Extrinsic rewards do not create long-term engagement
Employee engagement programs mostly offer extrinsic rewards to motivate employees. Think of pay raises, bonuses, benefits, promotions, coupons, free stuff and so on. Companies continue to use extrinsic motivators because they are easier to implement and because managers believe that people work mainly in their companies for money and status. Often, in the short term, extrinsic design can create some engagement for sure. In the long-term, however, extrinsic motivators do not bring good results. Even worse, over time, larger and larger rewards are needed to sustain the same level of motivation in people and if rewards are removed, the desired behavior is often extinguished, leading to employee disengagement and a decrease in morale. In addition, extrinsic design limits creativity, selflessness and cooperation, which are hallmarks of successful companies in the 21st Century.
An interesting example of how extrinsic rewards can decrease employees intrinsic motivation to perform a task, something known also as the Overjustification Effect, is the 9-month attendance award program implemented at an industrial laundry plant in the USA. The main goal of the program was to reduce employee absenteeism and tardiness and thus improve productivity.
During the program, employees with perfect attendance (no unexcused absences and no tardies) for the past month had the right to enter into a draw and win a $75 gift card. Quite unexpectedly for the management of the plant, at the end of the program, it was discovered that there was actually a 1.4% decrease in average employee daily productivity. The most productive and punctual workers suffered a total of 6-8% decrease in productivity, workers were 50 percent more likely to have an unplanned single absence and while employee punctuality improved during the first few months of the program, old patterns of tardiness started to emerge again in later months.
We will explore the reasons for this results at the end of this article (see if you can figure them out yourself) but as we can see, also, in this case, extrinsic rewards failed to deliver long-term results. Having said that, I certainly do not think that you never design for extrinsic motivation when designing your employee engagement program. What I want to point out is that if you hope to achieve long-term results, you want to gyrate towards more intrinsic motivation.
The advantage of using Boosters to improve employee engagement
Some of the most powerful game techniques to help create an intrinsically motivating employee engagement program are Boosters. Boosters are rewards, usually limited under certain conditions (time, quantity, etc.), that make your employees more efficient at their work and help them be better at what they do.
Here are some examples of using Boosters at work:
- Giving a cab driver a brand new cool car or access to VIP clients for a limited time;
- Hiring a famous guru to spend some time with an employee and serve as his or her mentor;
- Giving scientists a limited access to a supercomputer that could help them solve problems much faster;
- Supplying well-performing employees in a call center with a more technologically advanced headset that would help them serve clients much faster and in a more efficient and convenient way.
As you can see, the reward itself is not something people can just spend or take home and forget about in a couple of weeks. It is something that makes them better or helps them excel at work. Boosters empower people within your organizations with a new bonus or advantage that will increase their motivation towards doing their work better. Employees will be putting even more energy and effort to take as much advantage as possible from the situation and thus they will do their job better, faster and more efficiently. Moreover, as people usually have only a limited access to boosters, Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience would motivate them, even more, to perform better (or do any other Desired Action) so that they could gain access to Boosters again and again.
Why do Boosters drive long-term employee engagement?
Let’s explore the reasons why successful Boosters engagement design has higher potential to drive motivation than programs based mainly on extrinsic rewards.
Boosters design is a game technique that sits under Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback in the top right corner of the Octalysis Framework. This means that Boosters are at the same time White Hat and Intrinsic in nature. White Hat motivation makes people feel powerful, fulfilled, satisfied and most importantly in control of their own actions. Intrinsic motivation makes the task more enjoying and fun to do. Embedding White Hat and Intrinsic motivation in your employee engagement program will make people feel empowered and long-term happy in what they are doing. This sounds like a jackpot, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, designing a successful Boosters Engagement Program is not an easy task and requires a thorough business analysis and knowledge of behavioral science.
How could the industrial laundry plant have used Boosters to reduce employee absenteeism and tardiness?
Before I give you a couple of examples of how Boosters could have looked like in the laundry plant, let’s explore some more information about the business processes in the company:
- Cleaning services occur at five plants of approximately 35 workers, supervised by two managers who focus on worker efficiency and overall plant productivity.
- Payments are the same across all plants. Workers receive a guaranteed base hourly rate and hourly wage bonuses based on daily efficiency scores above the expected performance score of 100.
- Workers are cross-trained on many tasks but tend to specialize in a few, amongst which they alternate throughout each day.
Booster Example 1
Employees with perfect attendance and no absences for the past five working days can choose which tasks to do on day 6. Moreover, day 6 brings an additional 20 % bonus on efficiency scores above 100.
In this example, on day 6 people will feel empowered to choose the tasks which they are best at and like the most, while at the same time they will work harder to take as much advantage as possible from the efficiency score booster. Giving people an added choices to how to execute their work is Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback, responsible for long-term motivation.
Booster Example 2
Employees with perfect attendance for the past 2 weeks have the right to use the newest equipment for a week. Also, they have the right to ask for a “Job Swap”, and take the position of one of the plant managers for an hour.
In this case, the newest equipment will help employees achieve better results and be even more efficient. Moreover, the opportunity to swap jobs with one of their managers will not only help well-performing employees learn more about the job but also bring some fun to the day-to-day plant activities.
Booster Example 3
Workers in the plant with the lowest percentage of employee absenteeism and tardiness for the past month win a 5 % bonus on all efficiency scores above 100 for a period of one month.
This will bring a little competition between different plants potentially adding some Social Influence and Relatedness (Core Drive 5) which will make workers even more involved in following and striving to reduce absenteeism and tardiness rates. Just keep in mind that to be successful in embedding competition in your design you should make sure that it fits the profile of your staff as some people hate competition.
As you can see there are many and different ways in which you can use Booster to motivate desired behavior in your workforce. However, it’s important to note that you cannot just add some game mechanics to your experience and expect it to blossom and become engaging. To be successful in your design, you should embed Boosters throughout all four phases of the user’s journey – Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding, and Endgame.
So why did the attendance program fail?
Although the attendance reward program did not mean to do this, it created some very unexpected outcomes in the industrial laundry plant:
- The award demotivated the most productive and punctual workers because they believed it was unfair to recognize people for something like attendance while their hard work seems to be neglected.
- Unplanned single absences increased because employees started “gaming” the program, by showing up on time only when they were eligible for the award and, in some cases, even calling in sick rather than reporting late to avoid disqualification.
- Old patterns of tardiness started to emerge in the later months because in time, workers got used to the extrinsic monetary rewards and they started looking less and less appealing.
Had the company known about Octalysis secrets, they would have designed the program differently. Boosters would have been incorporated in the design for sure, as well as other Octalysis design gems.
Want to know how we can help you design high ROI employee design? Are you struggling to get your employees motivated and engaged in their work? Don’t worry, you are not alone. The Octalysis Group has a long track record of creating high ROI workplace engagement designs.
Contact us for a free consultation.