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So, is Gamification a Generational Thing?

So, is Gamification a Generational Thing?

When the option of using gamification for workforce engagement became “hot”, most industry pundits explained gamification along generational lines.

The generational argument goes like this:

  • Employees are disengaged
  • The Y generation is even more disengaged, having grown up alongside technology and gaming (and having grown up with a strong sense of entitlement)
  • While other generations can be engaged through their acceptance of hierarchies, focus on competition (or anything else, for that matter), generation Ys (aka Millennials) are unique in their need for “digital” engagement
  • Therefore, gamification works well for Generation Y.

But in reality workforces are a cross-generational affair – mixing Gen Xers, Millennials and even Baby Boomers. That’s why I often hear a question that makes a lot of sense given the frame of mind described above: “will gamification work to engage all my employees or just work on my Gen Y staff?”. The question is legitimate, but the discussion that frames gamification along generational lines is confusing and not correct.

The short answer is that gamification works across all generations. This article explains how and why.

Another worry we hear is that non-Gen-Y staff will be alienated or unlikely to engage with gamification. That too is an untrue assumption, as you’ll see below.

A brief generation overview

Today’s workforce contains three generations:

  • Baby Boomers
  • Generation X; and
  • Generation Y (also known as Millennials).

Baby Boomers (born between the mid- 1940s and the mid-1960s): are typically described as being optimistic, idealistic, and inner-directed. Many of them are early technology adopters; others do not even possess a mobile phone. Most of the workforce from this generation are now in their 50s or 60s.

Generation X (born between the early/mid-1960s and the early 1980s): are typically described as adaptable and technologically competent. They have grown up through a period of extraordinary technological progress, and keep themselves upgraded and trained on technology so that they can remain employable.

Generation Y (Millenials) were born after the early 1980s. They are typically viewed as optimistic, smart and cooperative and have grown up with technology all of their lives. They are quick to make use of new technology and are considered as having a higher willingness to work within rules compared to the two previous generations. Does this mean that they are more likely to be engaged by games at work? That they are the generation where the gap between work and play will become non-existent?

Is gamification a way to engage generations that grew up on gaming?

The response to these questions is multi-layered, but let us begin by stating that gamification isn’t a game. As we will see in the research discussed below, framing gamification as a “game” can result in confusion, since gamification is about using game mechanics (from the exotic “bet on your performance”, through completion mechanisms, on to points, badges and leader boards), but all in a NON-GAME context- the context of work.

So, in reality, gamification is the art of analyzing the elements of fun, interactivity and reward that make gaming so addictive and working out how to apply those same principles to non-game environments.

The internal definition we use here, at Centrical is “using game elements to drive behavior, engagement: communicate, feedback and coach to performance”. We’re more fascinated by thinking of gamification as a sort of fitness tracker for work than by thinking of people playing games at work, since gamification isn’t a game layer on top of work. It is game elements – that aren’t a game – to make work better and to drive employees’ emotional engagement.

Just as an aside, some industry pundits argue that just like generational differences may result in different engagement levels with gamification, other argue that males and females play differently and therefore will react differently to gamification. This post is an example of this argument.

I must say I disagree, since game mechanics need to adapt to the company’s employees and their modes of engagement, by checking this early in the process of implementing a gamification solution (see here for an infographic of the process). Additionally, women are known “gamers”. Actually, 52% of gamers are women, but the industry behaves as if it doesn’t know it.

Proving the opposite – KPMG shows that all generations are engaged by gamification

Luckily, we have a report by KPMG, which used a gamified tool to improve staff awareness of KPMG’s service capabilities. The challenge was a classic one for gamification: KPMG Australia had over 5,000 staff working across 150 different service offerings in Australia, and it wanted to ensure that employees were aware of the many service capabilities the organization had, so they could connect them to KPMG clients. In short – this was an up-sell or cross-sell opportunity that could be realized through training/learning.

But KPMG discovered that current tools and resources (whether digitally available on the Intranet or actual paper-based materials) were not engaging enough. Other methods of engaging employees with the service offering did not make sense from an economic or labor perspective.

That’s why KPMG opted to try gamification (before you read more, you can see the report here. The results were a success – a 21% knowledge increase)

They decided to check gamification. Consultants that they are, they set goals, one of which was that the gamification effort: appeal to all employees, regardless of gender or seniority. Voila!  We have an answer – we can tell whether gamification work well across a workforce made of generations, hierarchy or gender.

The game was a Q&A game about the firm’s capabilities, and good answers were translated into a faster progression of the employee’s avatar in a race.

One of the fears KPMG initially had was that junior employees – more likely to have had gaming experiences and obviously part of generation Y – would be the only ones to log into the learning game and play it. Actually, usage was spread across roles and divisions.

While junior users were more likely to login post the first game announcement (but not by much) the more senior employees were more likely to become power users (i.e. reaching higher levels in the game). The report writers conclude that “more mature individuals can be more responsive to gamification experiences than their younger peers” – the exact opposite of conventional wisdom. Interestingly enough, solving the “retention” problem observed by KPMG (the fact that younger users logged in but didn’t stay long enough to become power users) can be easily addressed by using notification mechanisms, reminding them, through emails and in-app notifications, of the need to login and re-engage with the game.

In addition, 80% of employees, when surveyed, felt that “playing games” was a legitimate tool for training – deflecting the fear that employees may find the use of games offensive or inappropriate.

As to the youngest users in the gamification pilot – they were the most likely to log in and try to game but also the most likely to “dropout” of the game? Why – some of them responded that they expected it to be like a game and it wasn’t. This is an important take-away. While the gamification project may fall under the gamification definition, perhaps using the term “game” for communications can backfire – the expectations of real games are totally different, thinking of intricately narrated and produced games.

Another result was that “not only did a person’s gaming status have a negligible impact on their participation, it also didn’t influence the level of improvement in their awareness or level of enjoyment of the game”.

KPMG conclude the report by noting that “gamification techniques can be used to improve the awareness of a topic that people may otherwise not be particularly excited about”. We’ll add that it works across all generations.

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