RodeoBy now, you’re well aware of the deplorable state of employee engagement in the U.S. To wit, slightly less than a third of workers (31.5 percent) say they are engaged in their jobs. Sure, this represents a 14-year high, but it’s still pretty dismal when you consider that 51 percent of employees are not engaged and 17.5 percent are “actively disengaged.”

But lets not belabor the point. Employees are disengaged. The real question is, how do we fix it?

Among the available options — unlimited vacation policies, entrepreneurial employment structures, better management — one tactic seems to loom largest: gamification.

Can gamification really “revolutionize employee engagement”? I’ve never been able to find satisfactory research to prove this stance — and I invite anyone who has to share it with me via the comments — but surveys like this one from Badgeville and Make Their Day come closest. According to said survey, “90 percent of respondents said that a fun work environment is very or extremely motivating.”

Fun. Fun and games. Gamification. The logical progression almost makes itself.

Of course, we might want to take a study on the effectiveness of gamification conducted by “the No. 1 gamification platform” (i.e., Badgeville) with a grain of salt.

I’m cautious of gamification for the same reason that I’m cautious of treating cancer by eating an “alkaline diet”: anything that claims to be a miracle cure — whether for employee disengagement or physical disease — usually isn’t.

But the difference between alkaline diets and gamification is that gamification is actually worth a shot. We may not have any solid evidence that it will “revolutionize” anything, but we do know that people like fun and games. If we can make work more fun, why not? At the very least, you’ll have happier employees. Maybe everyone won’t be magically engaged. Maybe some of your employees will still feel disinterested in their jobs, no matter how much gamifying you do. But plenty of your employees will enjoy the chance to indulge their competitive sides.

Mike Broderick, CEO of Turning Technologies, somewhat echoes my feelings when he says, “Generally speaking, [gamification] is yet another way of engaging people and aligning them with what you want to accomplish [as an organization].”

BoxingBroderick’s not indulging in the hype; he’s not posing gamification as the ultimate solution to employee engagement problems. He simply sees it as a useful strategy. And that’s exactly why I want to share his ideas on three ways to incorporate gamification into your workplace. Broderick isn’t selling me snake oil. He’s just telling me what’s worked for him.

And if it has worked for him, it may work for you.

1. Training and Development

Broderick says that he sees gamification most often used for training and development purposes, and there’s a good reason for that.

“Gamification is a great tool to incorporate throughout that training to keep [employees] engaged, to keep them active, and to measure the effectiveness of the training,” Broderick says.

For example, rather than sitting your employees in a room and asking them to listen to a trainer for a few hours, you can turn the session into an interactive competition. Arm employees with handheld clickers or special smartphone apps, which they can use to respond to questions throughout the session.

“Instead of one or two people being actively engaged, everybody is actively engaged throughout the training,” Broderick explains.

These clickers/apps can replace boring post-tests, allowing employees to reinforce their training through a serious of competitive events.

Meanwhile, software allows the instructor to tabulate results, keep track of employee progress, and reward the winners.

RunnerThis, of course, is a very basic example of gamifying your training sessions. You can step it up by implementing hands-on group activities and individual competitions related to the training session. The point is that it’s very easy to gamify your training sessions, and doing so wrenches employees out of their boredom and encourages them to actively participate in their development.

2. The Sales Department

When it comes to bringing gamification to specific departments, where else would you turn first than the sales department?

“These folks are motivated by competition,” Broderick says. “The more competition you can add to their world, the more motivated they’re going to be.”

For example, Turning Technologies often uses its national sales meetings to kick off national sales competitions. Salespeople vie for fabulous prizes in a contest to see who can sell the most of a new product or service.

What better way to get your most competitive team engaged than by inserting some regular competition into their lives? It doesn’t always need to be a national competition: you can set up smaller monthly or quarterly competitions within offices, too.

3. Idea Competitions

Here’s one you don’t often see: idea contests where employees on research and development teams — or even employees across the whole organization — compete to come up with the best idea related to the improvement of a company’s products or services.

Surfer“Some of out best products have come out of people’s individual creativity in these events,” Broderick says.

Ultimately, the foregoing examples are just starting points.

“You can apply the competition framework to most areas of the business,” Broderick says. “Any area where you’re trying to raise the bar or achieve improvement, gamification is a good way to do it and measure it — and to make it fun.”

And if you’re worried that rewarding your employees via gamification will break your company’s budget, don’t be. Turning Technologies’ prizes range from all-expense-paid trips to t-shirts and gift cards. What Broderick finds is that it’s not really the size of the prize that counts.

“Even if it’s a smaller reward, the fact that there is a reward can make a huge difference,” Broderick says.

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