Incorporating gaming techniques into company wellness programs greatly boosts engagement, a key ingredient for wellness program success.
Beyond their ability to entertain, games are recognized for their potential to produce benefits outside the game. Steven Berlin Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You, noted, for example, that immersion in video games can enhance cognitive and spatial skills. Game designer Jane McGonigal, author of Reality Is Broken, suggested that much of what people do in their daily lives could be enhanced by turning it into a game. The result is a rise in the “gamification”—addition of a light overlay of gaming concepts such as points, badges and levels—to more areas of our lives.
Games have the power to engage people at a deep level and shift their priorities toward the behaviors rewarded by the games. For this reason, businesses increasingly are using games to train employees.
Below are three ways that company-sponsored wellness programs can use and benefit from gaming techniques.
1. Allow for autonomy and voluntary participation.
According to McGonigal, four core elements define a game:
• A goal.
• Voluntary participation.
• A system of feedback.
The first two might seem in conflict with a company-sponsored wellness program, given that organizations have their own objectives and are accustomed to being able to tell employees what to do. But traditional wellness programs often fail to achieve lasting change using a heavy-handed reliance on high incentives to drive goals passed down by the company.
Successful wellness programs incorporate games that present themselves as serving the player's interests. These are activities supported by technologies that enable individuals to engage in things they have wanted to do but were not able to prioritize adequately in the short term.
2. Make it contextual, relevant and social.
Games don’t exist in a vacuum; they succeed or fail within the physical, cultural, technological and social context of their players. A game that works for employees of companies with multiple worksites or with a diverse group of businesses might be very different from one that works for employees at a single location. Incorporating game techniques into a company wellness program is best with a flexible system that enables leaders who know the context of each workplace and each office, so they can become associate game designers—creating games that are accessed, participated in and tracked easily.
And keep in mind that relevant means social; games can be particularly effective when they put players in contact with people they already know and interact with regularly.
3. Start with a light touch; build in depth.
The games must be entertaining and easy to play. Not everyone in the workplace is looking to interact with their company wellness program every day. Demand too much early on and participants might feel overwhelmed. As behavior change expert B.J. Fogg instructed, “Reward the simplest behavior that matters.”
Yet it’s important to build in the thoughtfully designed triggers and feedback loops that draw players in progressively and ultimately assist in habit formation.
While debate continues about social gaming’s ability to drive lasting behavior change, a growing number of companies can attest to the power of games—when included in a comprehensive customized wellness program—to drive engagement that yields results for their employees and their bottom line.
Henry Albrecht is CEO of Limeade Inc., an enterprise wellness platform that seeks to build happy, healthy, high-performance workforces.
Creating a Unified Wellness Program at Dover Corp., SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, May 2012
What Level of Impact Fits Your Wellness Plan?, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2012
Wellness Initiatives Can Ease the Pain of Rising Benefits Costs, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2012
Measuring the Success of Wellness Programs Still a Challenge, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2012
Companies Increase Wellness Incentive Dollars, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, March 2012
Behavioral Economics Improve Workforce Health Decisions, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, January 2012
Insurers Are Plugging Into 'Gamification,' But Are Only Beginning to See Its Potential, Health Plan Week, May 2012
Health Gaming and the Power of Social, iHealthBeat, April 2012
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