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How to get gamification right in employee on-boarding

Get gamification right in employee onboarding

Every year, Cathay Pacific on-boards hundreds of new employees. To remain one of world’s leading airlines, their employees have to deliver passengers exemplary customer experience and their signature service from the moment they join. To do that, Cathay Pacific embarked on a project to give their new employees a consistent and engaging on-boarding experience.

But getting new employees to absorb a lot of information – especially before they start on day one – is a big ask. Layer in the complexity of different role types, experience levels, locations and cultures, and Cathay Pacific would need a creative way to motivate new hires to explore all of the on-boarding resources available to them.

Enter gamification. Working with Kindred, a Sydney-based digital employee experience design consultancy, they designed a gamified on-boarding platform that keeps new employees engaged and learning from the time they signed their contract all the way through to their first performance review.

So how did they do this? And why gamification?

First, a quick definition. Gamification is the application of mechanics which make games fun and addictive to non-game experiences. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, this can include things like points, badges, leaderboards, rewards, communities, collaboration on tasks, and status levels. It can be a powerful tool to motivate employees while increasing the usage and adoption of new tools and processes.

Equal amounts have been written about its power in the workplace as its failures to achieve the desired outcomes. But when carefully thought out, gamification is proven to increase engagement and boost productivity. It can also provide a tool for recognition and improve knowledge retention.

On-boarding in particular is an area that can benefit from gamification. Too often, on-boarding is viewed as a utilitarian process, filled with boring instructional manuals, compliance requirements, forms, and questionably helpful training sessions. For hiring managers and new employees alike, it can be more of a chore than a positive experience. But it’s what sets the stage for an employee’s entire career with your organisation, and their relationship with their hiring manager and coworkers.

Gamification, when paired with relevant content and clear expectations for both sides, can bring employees into the community, motivate them to learn and participate more, and reward them while getting them up to speed faster. But gamifying for the sake of it doesn’t solve the problem of engagement. Its power is rooted in human psychology and it needs to be carefully designed in order to tap into the motivations of your employees and reap the benefits.

Here are three rules to keep in mind when using gamification to drive engagement during on-boarding:

1. Get emotional: understand your new hires’ motivations

As Gartner’s Brian Burke points out in his book Gamify, gamification is not about making boring activities fun by adding points, badges, and leaderboards. Instead, it’s centered on the science of motivation.

Before you even start thinking how to gamify on-boarding tasks, start first by understanding your employees’ goals and ambitions. Gamification won’t motivate people to do things they don’t want to do. Gartner estimates that 80% of workplace gamification falls flat due to a lack of creativity and meaning.

By tapping into intrinsic forms of motivation (like competence, autonomy, and emotional needs), rather than extrinsic rewards (incentives), you can encourage people to participate more, and for longer periods. For example, consider things like online community Stack Overflow. Members are rewarded through upvoting and feedback for contributing answers to other people's questions, benefiting both them and the person with the question. As they answer more questions, people become part of the community and begin to develop positive social reputations.

As in the example above, organisations need to consider the motivations not only of new starters, but also of the people supporting them. This can include recruiters, hiring managers, onboarding buddies, other new starters, and peers. Is there a way to involve them in the experience that will make it better for new employees? Consider the whole onboarding ecosystem and design ways to motivate and engage everyone involved.

2. Start with a clear understanding of your desired business outcomes

Identify the specific business objectives you’re trying to achieve with gamification. Most often, your business goals will align nicely with employees’ own goals. By allowing the player to achieve her own goals, your organisational goals can be met as well. For example, your goal may be to reduce time to productivity. Employees might have the complementary goal of feeling capable and confident more quickly. Knowing how your business goals translate to employee motivations helps you design experiences that address both.

It’s also important to define your success metrics upfront. That way, you can ensure you’re capturing the right data and can design experiences that support their achievement.

For example, PwC Hungary wanted to engage job candidates in learning more about the firm before the interview process. To achieve that goal, they designed a targeted game called Multipoly Next, which allows candidates to virtually test their readiness for working at the firm by working in teams to solve real world problems. The game met both business objectives and candidate needs with a 190% rise in job applications. New hires found the on-boarding experience at PwC much easier, as they had already experienced the culture of the company through the game.

3. Don’t stop there: think about how gamification can be used throughout the entire employee lifecycle

Great employee experiences are not discrete moments that happen haphazardly throughout your journey at an organisation. They are well considered linkages that unify your experiences from the moment you start to the moment you say goodbye.

If your organisation sees potential in using gamification at the start of your employees’ journey, then consider how else could it be used at other times. For example, Walmart used gamification to deliver safety training to 75,000 workers. Consider weaving the same game mechanics through other key processes like recruiting, ongoing training, performance management, employee rewards programs, learning and development and even off-boarding and alumni programs.

Performance management, for example, is another perfect area for the use of gamification, as it employs the inherent rewards and recognition elements of the game. At technology company Atlassian, they show all employees where they are in the “rankings” of employees overall based on start date. When they redesigned their internal directory, keeping this was the most-requested feature. People love seeing themselves move out of the “new starters” group over time and can literally see themselves progressing through the organisation.

Designing gamification that works

With these factors in mind, adding gamification to your onboarding can be a fantastic way to improve the new hire experience. But it needs to be designed intentionally in order to reap its potential.

That means:

  • Do your research. Find out what motivates your new starters, what information they’re interested in learning, and how other employees factor into their onboarding experience.
  • Reward successes. Consider both tangible and intangible rewards, and make sure you’re providing both.
  • Know what outcomes you want to achieve. Align your business goals with employees own goals before designing your solution.

As long as you remember to empathise with your new hires, you can design effective onboarding that uses gamification to enhance the experience.

AUTHOR

Maren Hotvedt
User Experience Designer, Kindred

Maren is a user experience designer and digital strategist with experience helping clients of all kinds–from tech startups to large enterprises. Her focus is on helping teams navigate the complex worlds of agile development, web, mobile, and software (and where they meet).

In particular, her work involves applying Human Centered Design to the development of internal enterprise tools, a complex space with lots of interesting opportunities for innovation. She believes that engaging actual users, speaking their language, and meeting them on their turf is key to creating lasting digital experiences.

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