How to motivate your employees using gamification principles
You’ve heard about the perks that employees have at those hyper-funded new startups: Guitar Hero hour, yoga room, video game room, unlimited coffee, unlimited beer, free lunches on Friday. You would love to offer the same, but —can you afford it? Unless among your investors is a Saudi prince, probably not. And do all those perks really keep employees motivated? I recently toured one of those startups with a friend. “Nobody ever uses the yoga room,” she told me. “And on free lunch Fridays, most of the food goes to waste because we’re so sick of seeing each other – most of us go out to eat somewhere else.”
According to a recent study by Dale Carnegie Training Global Leadership (2016) that considered 14 countries, including India and the US, only 22 percent of full-time employees plan to stay in their current jobs for the long term. 16 percent are currently looking for a new job, and 29 percent intend to start looking for a new job. Considering how expensive, painful, and tiring it is to hire and train new employees, those aren’t good numbers! The same study explains what’s best to keep employees happy: sincere appreciation and praise, effective leadership, and reliable leaders, leaders that seem honest with others and themselves. For employees that always see their employers as reliable, job satisfaction grew to over 80 percent.
“What nonsense is this!” You’ll say, “I have to be nice? I pay my employees to do their work. I don’t have to explain my actions, and if they don’t like it, there’s a long line of others that would love to have a job!”
Well, if money is what drives you, there is an important reason why you want to keep your employees motivated other than reducing hiring and training costs: increased productivity. A highly motivated employee performs better.
Should you invest in a PlayStation, then? That’s not exactly what I meant by gamification principles. Gamification is not turning things into a game, but using elements of games use to increase engagement. What many successful games do is apply the principles of self-determination theory. Let’s put some psychology on this. You already know you have to be nice (which is cheap) but let’s explain why, so you will be more motivated.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
According to the Self-Determination Theory, people are intrinsically motivated to perform a task when the task is inherently pleasant. We play games because we derive pleasure from the activity. How do you feel every time you pass a level on Candy Crush Saga? You feel good! It’s the dopamine working inside your brain. The tougher the level, the better you feel. You may not have done a victory dance when you passed the first level, but didn’t you do one when you passed level 45? Now, how do you feel when you have to do chores? Take out the trash, drive through heavy traffic—you don’t dance much, do you? You are extrinsically motivated when the motivation to perform a task comes not from the pleasure the task will bring you but from a separate outcome: you take the trash out to keep your house clean; you drive because you need to get to work, and you work because you want to get paid.
Your employees are extrinsically motivated. If they were intrinsically motivated, they’d work for free! You cannot transform extrinsic motivations into intrinsic motivations unless the separate outcome (reward) becomes the task. Most times that’s impossible, but you can make the separate outcome more attractive: free beer, free coffee, yoga room, higher pay… or apply some dirt-cheap psychology to convert external regulations, the separate outcome, into integrated regulations, regulations that we follow not only because they lead to a reward but because we have made them part of our concept of self.
Self-Determination theory also says that motivation increases as we satisfy the needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These are psychological needs we all have the urge to satisfy, just like the need for food and shelter. We want to control our own decisions. We want to feel capable. We want to belong. We’re not walking machines, we’re social animals!
How can you make your employees feel more autonomous?
Stop micro-managing. Train your employees properly on how to do their work instead. Give them responsibility. You do not have time to train them? You have less time to hire constantly. Explain to your employees what’s expected of them, give them the tools to do it, and then let them run free. Let them make decisions. That’s how you learn to play video games! A short basic tutorial, you jump with button A, you run with button B, the mushroom-looking guys are the bad guys, and then you’re free to run through the hills and rescue the princess. You’ll spend some time exploring the world, and your employees will spend some time exploring what they can do with the newly earned responsibility and maybe making mistakes. That’s alright. Of course, in video games, you have unlimited lives (you can always restart when you die), and you don’t find the first boss till the end of the third level, but video games also start easy. Give your new employees only the autonomy you both feel comfortable with. As they get more experienced, give them more. Then some more.
“But training is expensive!” you’ll say. Then use tools that are both empowering and easy to use, like ePaisa point of sale.
How can you make your employees feel more competent?
By letting them know they’re doing a good job – just like in video games. Every time you grab a coin in Mario Bros, you hear a little ca-ching! Every time you defeat an enemy, you gain points. Every time you finish a level, you hear this catchy song. Video games constantly let you know that you’re doing a good job and rewarding your efforts with cheap praise. Our response? We become addicted. We spend HOURS trying to defeat the boss so we can hear a silly song and get a message saying, “Thank you Mario, but our princess is in another castle!” and then continue playing for another hour or so. Same with a job: a little praise here and there works wonders. Why? Because when we verify that our efforts are paying off, we feel happy. And happiness makes us release dopamine, to which we’re all hooked. Likewise, when something prevents us from achieving that goal, we feel angry. And when the goal is no longer attainable, we feel sad. That’s the function of emotions, to indicate our progress towards a goal, and serve as directives for behavior on how to achieve that goal. Emotions fade with time though. If something is too easy, you may feel happy at first but then bored. Boredom is an emotion that indicates that a goal is no longer attractive. What do you do when video games get too easy? You stop playing. What does a video game need to do to keep you hooked? Get increasingly difficult, not so difficult that you cannot pass the level, just difficult enough to keep you interested. Same applies to a job: Praise your employees, so they know they’re progressing, but keep them challenged, so they stay interested. If the job is too difficult, they’ll quit. If the job is to easy, they’ll get bored.
Many tasks at work are either difficult or tedious and therefore boring, which reduces motivation. How can you easily increase your employees’ competence? Give them ePaisa! Okay, yes, this is an infomercial but you’re getting lots of good advice and ePaisa does increase competence, by making tedious tasks, like controlling inventory or keeping detailed records of sales easy, so your employees can do more! Keep reading.
How can you make your employees satisfy their need of relatedness?
Let me be cynical about it: humans are effing gullible. The one person we love the most in this world is our own self, that’s why we need constant affirmation. It isn’t just vanity but an evolutionary advantage: we prefer those that are nice and complimentary to us because being surrounded by that kind of people increases our chances of survival. Friends will fight with you against enemies. Friends will feed you in the case of need and keep an eye on your stuff and protect it from thieves. It works both ways, when you feel that you are part of a team, you fight for your friends and you protect their resources. Before being rational, we’re social animals, don’t forget that! Your employees need to know they’re part of a team. They need to know that you are all working together for a common goal. Not to make you rich, but to make everyone working for the company live richer lives. They need to be proud of their team. They need to feel that work is like family. That’s why video games always start with a clear inclusive mission: rescue our princess. Help us defeat tyranny. You are our only hope.
Tricks to increase relatedness? An all-expenses-paid bonding seminar to Hawaii, which will drive you out of budget… Or just the occasional “How do you do?” to let know your employees they are important to you. Spend some time explaining to your employees what you’re doing and why their work is important. Let them know that even if they feel as if they were the smallest crew in the big machinery, that little screw is important. In games, you play with your team. You may not be able to choose who is in your team or which team you join, but it’s your team, and you’re loyal to that team simply because it is your team. Again, this is an evolutionary advantage: we have a tendency to prefer those that are close to us, because being close knit increases our chances of survival.
One final advice, for the shy: What if it’s not in your nature to be “nice,” to give praise, and make everyone feel welcome? What if you’re too “results-oriented” and just cannot praise those needy millennials for everything little thing they do? You got a box behind the ear every time you did something wrong, that’s how you learned! Well, if you cannot be nice, hire someone that can. I used to work in this office with a very negative vibe. Everyone in the sales team was always angry and tired. Productivity was very low. Then this girl came who wasn’t the brightest, or the fastest, and needed help constantly because she didn’t know too well how to use a computer; But boy, was she kind and joyful. She improved everyone’s mood because she always had a kind word and made everyone feel useful. She made that office a pleasant place to be and taught us how to be nice to each other. The result? Productivity grew. A lot.
— This post was originally written for the ePaisa.com blog