Could games be the key to engagement?

One of the most fascinating lectures I’ve seen recently is this 12-minute speech by Ali Carr-Chellman, in which she explains how the modern education system is doing a disservice to boys. Check it out:

What struck me most about the video—aside from the amazing statistics—is that she doesn’t believe it’s the boys who need to change. It’s the system. And when she points out that 93 percent of elementary school teachers are women, it’s easy to see how boys don’t feel like they’re represented fairly.

What does this have to do with HR? Lots, I think. Just as boys are dropping out of school at an alarming rate, some companies are seeing unprecedented turnover from disengaged employees. While teachers are dismissive of boys who learn “differently” (i.e., not like girls), managers—who fulfill the role of teachers in the workplace—fail to engage 70 percent of their teams. Why? Boys fail to see male role models and assume school isn’t for them, and employees aren’t shown the connection between their work and the larger picture. In both cases, the disengaged people don’t feel like part of the team.

Fortunately, if there’s anything games stand for, it’s teamwork. In her TED Talk, Carr-Chellman makes a compelling argument that games are the key to engaging boys, and I think we can apply the same concept to work. Games teach cooperation, reinforce good work with rewards, and give trophies for major accomplishments. Those are all good things.

So what’s the takeaway? While I don’t think you necessarily need to gamify your whole approach to employee engagement (although you could), stealing a few best practices wouldn’t hurt:

  • Incentivize teamwork. Whatever system you choose, make sure it encourages employees to work as a team. Connected employees are happier, their work is more visible, and they’re more accountable for their actions.
  • Give appropriate rewards. What gets recognized gets repeated. Good work that goes unrewarded is sure to dry up fast.
  • Encourage public recognition. Give your employees something to brag about. When they go really above and beyond, give them a trophy—virtual or otherwise. Whether it’s a certificate, a digital “badge,” or a bona fide trophy, recognize major accomplishments in a major way. Show them that when they play the game, it’s easy to level up.

 

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