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The gamification of business contexts has been praised for its successes. In short, gamification is the integration of game mechanics into already existing tasks and procedures. When applied to the business context, games can create an engaged workforce with the help of appealing designs, fun exercises, an energising spirit of competition as well as with scores and rewards. These elements of games have not only produced significant performance boosts in sales and customer service but also revolutionised recruitment processes.

Gamification is also considered to engage employees in volunteering activities. The benefits for businesses are obvious: games attract and engage a wide range of employees. This does not only contribute to the success of employee volunteering programmes, but game scores also quantify the engagement of employees and demonstrate a company’s social efforts.  

While this sounds simple in theory, the actual implementation is much less straightforward.

 

Here are three thoughts and tips to consider:

 

1) Don’t make all information public.

Many people decide to volunteer purely for the sake of doing good; not for public reputation or prestige. With its fun and spurring aspects, the introduction of games to employee volunteering can help attract a wider group of employees than the ones who are already engaged – as HuffPost jokingly remarks, gamification might even lure the skeptical volunteer cynic.

However, a company- or department-wide game situation changes the nature of volunteering from a private to a public act. This might incite the game-seeking extrovert but intimidate an initially-passionate person who is now subject to public judgement. To avoid this trap, volunteering games might be designed largely anonymously. Invented virtual characters (instead of real names) sustain a certain level of privacy but do not diminish the game’s motivating effect.

 

2) Avoid humiliation and demotivation of low scorers.

Designs of employee games often entail badges or leaderboards which publicly display the performance of employees. The rationale behind this is to create an atmosphere of competition that will incentivize employees to improve their performance. Especially with activities such as sales and customer service the creation of competition is a popular tool and has led to impressive outcomes.

But in contrast to sales departments, strong and open competition might be counterproductive in the setting of employee volunteering. If low scorers are publicly named, they might become subject to humiliation which, ultimately, has a demotivating rather than incentivizing effect. To score low in a social field has a different value than to score low in value-neutral business activities.

To prevent this from happening, games must be carefully designed. Managers have to make sure that it is a team game and not a single-player mission. This stresses the collaborative instead of the competitive aspect. Another option might be to publish only the top five or top ten scorers. With these measures, the competition aspect does not get lost but demotivation and, even worse, humiliation can be avoided.

 

3) Preserve the core value of volunteering.

Volunteering, in its core, is not a competition for personal gain. The danger of introducing games and prizes is that winning becomes an end in itself which, in turn, undermines the core social value. The programme will lose its credibility to customers, charities, and employees. On the other hand, a volunteering program must attract a significant number of employees to be a successful part of a firm’s CSR strategy; and games fulfil this task well.

The key is to find the right balance to preserve the social value while, at the same time, spurring employees’ efforts. This might be done with the right choice of rewards. Businesses can avoid giving the impression that it is all about the game if they connect the reward with the social cause and the people that stand behind it. For example, instead of rewarding the winning team with material gifts, the firm might make a donation to the charities the winning team worked with.

 

The End Game

Not all rules that apply for other departments can be utilized in the same way for employee volunteering – the characters of the employees must be taken into account, and issues of privacy, demotivation and credibility have to be considered.

But as noted by one of the most-cited voices in the matter, Brian Burke from Gartner, Inc., the implementation of game structures will not be successful in any context if it is done blindly. The same applies for employee volunteering: games have the potential to create a highly-engaged workforce, motivated by the joint passion for the social cause. Gamification in employee volunteering can be a successful and, equally important, measurable tool for businesses, if games are implemented with care.


Juliane Markscheffel

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