How can gamification be utilised in a benefits communication strategy?


Need to know

  • Gamification is not necessarily just about playing games; it is all about using game principles, such as competition, to engage with employees.
  • It can be used as a tool to educate a workforce about pensions, health and wealth.
  • Gamification also includes wearable technology.

Employers can use gaming to communicate with their employees, boosting their understanding and appreciation of their benefits packages. But gamification is not necessarily all about playing games. Pete Jenkins, an independent gamification consultant and entrepreneur in residence at the University of Brighton, says: “Gamification is the process of making activities more game-like, [for example] more engaging.”

It is about using game mechanics and principles, such as competition, to engage and educate employees.

Organisations are using gamification as one tool within their communications strategy, says Karen Bolan, head of engagement at communications consultancy AHC. “Just because [they’ve] built a great website doesn’t mean people will visit it, so games are a great way to encourage them to visit and come back,” she explains.

Bolan cites the example of a retirement game whereby an employee can choose from three planes to fly, with each representing different investment risk strategies. Employees fly their plane, collect contributions and try to land on a particular island. They aim to land on the paradise of Wowee, while avoiding the desolate island of Pora Pora. The game is designed to improve employees’ understanding of the role that different investment strategies can play when they are saving. “People go back to try to beat what they’ve done before and they learn about the correlation between investments and outcomes,” Bolan explains.

Gaming can be a great way of helping employees to learn in a light-hearted way. “People naturally learn and can get motivated by beating themselves or beating their peers; you can put things such as leader boards on them,” says Bolan.

Engaging with a game also helps people to retain information. “Look at the success of YouTube: if you want to learn something you will go to YouTube and watch something,” says Bolan. “If you are shown how to do something rather than just reading, you retain so much more information and if you do something yourself you are far more likely to retain that knowledge.”

Playing a game can bring home the importance of saving to a younger demographic, says Dermot Courtier, head of group pensions at Kingfisher, the home improvement organisation that owns brands such as B&Q and Screwfix. Kingfisher uses its ‘Bolt to the finish’ game within its pensions communication strategy, in which players choose a character in the Bolt family and try to collect as many coins as possible before a nut, which symbolises retirement, catches up. The younger the character, the more time they have until retirement.

Open communication avenues

Gamification is also an effective way of communicating to members of staff that an employer cannot always speak to in person. Courtier doubts that he and his team would be able to speak to everyone employed by Kingfisher in its multitude of stores in a year of presentations. “We needed to find a way to communicate with all employees efficiently and engagingly,” he says. “That’s where the idea of the app came through.”

Change employee behaviour

Gamification is most often associated with pensions, but savvy employers are increasingly using it to help boost employees’ understanding of other types of savings. At Kingfisher, Courtier’s team work with their share plan colleagues to integrate gaming into the wider savings picture.

Jeff Fox, principal consultant at Aon Employee Benefits, says: “It’s about more than just pensions, it’s about the health and wealth agenda.”

He defines gamification as “anything that is interactive to a degree”. Gamification can be used to motivate employees to change their behaviour: giving them Fitbits or other wearable technology and encouraging them to compete on daily step counts, for instance.

Gamification has paid engagement dividends at Kingfisher, says Courtier. The organisation’s post-campaign employee engagement survey found that more than three-quarters (78%) of players were encouraged to think about saving for the future. The same proportion told someone else about the game or shared it with others. Overall, web views rose by 35%.

But employers must ensure the approach they take is right for their workforce. As Banafsheh Ghafoori, Kingfisher’s pensions technical and communications manager, says: “Don’t do it for the sake of doing it, do it for the right reasons. We’ve compared the cost of sending a physical hard copy versus creating the app and it was an easy decision for us.”