Want to Change Employee Behavior? You Gotta Have ‘Game’

When a baby gets negative about eating mashed carrots, playing a game of airplane and hanger—complete with sound effects—often turns a baby’s behavior positive.

You want your employees to do something—or something different, such as conserving energy in the workplace—but you get a lot of resistance. Take a tip from the baby. Or listen to mobile app developers, says Ben Holland of the Rocky Mountain Institute, writing for GreenBiz.com. Change their behavior by making it into a game!

Holland writes that “by applying gaming principles to nongame applications [“gamification,” a new buzz word], it is believed that you can encourage people to change their behavior.” He explains that, as in weight loss and smoking cessation, “caring is often an insufficient motivator.” That is why, in this era, you need “game mechanics to motivate people.”

He cites the example of www.foursquare.com, a website that gets people to visit businesses as part of a contrived “game” to earn badges and points that others can view, and hopefully, they can earn discount coupons. With 15 million participants, the success of foursquare shows that employees will enthusiastically pursue what is essentially an incentive with no value.

Another example cited by Holland is the Chevy Volt. While sales of the car are slow, having Volt owners enter their grid-fed mileage on a special website becomes a “game” that encourages participation, competition, and involvement, again with no tangible reward except possible “bragging rights.”

Why does gamification work? Holland says it encourages participation—the toughest challenge in behavior modification—by letting employees benchmark themselves against others, i.e., good old competition. So let the games begin …

What's the weirdest game you've played in the workplace? Share your story!

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