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Serious games: Employee Training Tool or Productivity Driver?

Serious games: Employee Training Tool or Productivity Driver?
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by Sanjeev Kapoor 20 Oct 2016

We all know business processes are challenging and complicated. Meeting sales targets, hiring new competent employees, creating business plans, monitoring KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), adjusting budgets, shaping business strategies are only few of the numerous business processes that put employees under physical and emotional pressure. Companies are therefore seeking ways to make business tasks more pleasant and engaging for employees, as a means of reducing stress and enhancing productivity. In this context, how about thinking of employees like kids-the most stress free and enthusiastic beings? Children enjoy engaging in playful activities and games, which helps them build confidence and push the limits of their imagination. At the same time, it also teaches them teamwork and facilitates mental development. Most important, games make kids happy. Since teamwork, confidence and happiness are essential for successful and productive employees you can consider employing games for supporting some of the corporate business processes and for making your workplace happy and inspiring.

Accordingly to Gartner, gamification is “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals”. In other words, gamification in the corporate environment refers to the engagement of employees in “serious games” i.e. games whose scope goes beyond entertainment, to the support of business processes. Nowadays enterprises are increasingly employing serious games and gamification processes in order to boost employee engagement and productivity in business processes, but also in order to influence employees’ behavior at work.


Games in the company: Where can they fit in?

Serious games are currently employed for business processes associated with training, marketing, recruitment, sales and more. Here is an indicative (yet non exhaustive) list of examples:

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  • Financial training: In the financial services industry serious games are already used for training employees on financial products and portfolios (including complex financial offerings), as well as for attracting new customers. There is a host of financial games for employees, ranging from business simulations, quizzes, crosswords and board games, to games comprising more complex plots. As a prominent example, the European Central Bank (ECB) trains its employees using a game called “Economia”, which enables employees to understand how the key interest rate affects inflation. In particular, the goal of the player is to keep inflation low and stable at just under 2%.
  • Business training: Business training games are used to train employees in issues such as time management, people management, corporate responsibility, sustainability, business strategy and more. These can take the form of business simulations or even adventure games, which allow employees to sharpen their business understanding and management skills. For instance, there are several time management games that provide employees with social and business scenarios, asking them to prioritize and optimize communications for the sake of time efficiency and productivity.
  • Hospitality Training: Major hotel chains are increasingly employing hospitality training games for their employees. The goal of these games is usually to simulate the handling of daily hotel operation activities. Examples can be accessed on YouTube.
  • Sales force operations: Serious games are also used in order to boost healthy competition within sales force groups. In several cases such games are not mere simulation, but rather a blend of information from the real world i.e. each salesman’s actual performance. The ultimate goal is to motivate salesmen improve their targets and ultimately the corporate bottom-lines.
  • Cognitive training: Beyond games that directly aim at improving business results, companies are also delivering cognitive training to aged employees that might be suffering from mild cognitive decline. Cognitive training games are delivered as part of age-friendly workplaces i.e. workplaces adapted to the needs of elderly workers. The goal is to enable older employees to work longer at the company, by remaining productive and transferring their experience to younger employees. We will be increasingly witnessing the deployment of such socially-important serious games, especially as the workforce is and will be ageing in the coming years.


Properties of Serious Games

The development of effective and successful serious games in the above categories is both art and science. Serious games should feature pleasant, motivating and user-friendly user interfaces. However, they should also be designed on the basis of scientifically sound theories, which explain the ways to boost learning and working performance. Adherence to such principles is a key to enabling employee learning and behavior shifts, based on mechanisms such as attainable challenges, rewards (badges, points) and public recognition. Here is an indicative list of principles that should drive game development:

  • Solving real-world problems: Learning theory suggests that a learner’s cognitive abilities are boosted when he/she engages in real-life activities and contexts. To this end, serious games administer to their participants problems associated with almost real-world situations.
  • Illustration of the correct behaviors: Social learning involves learning from the example of others. This is why most serious games include characters modeled as humans or anthropomorphic agents (i.e. avatars) which set the proper paradigms that the players should imitate and ultimate follow.
  • Challenges and motivation: Games challenge their players to achieve specific targets or master specific skills. They also boost collaboration or competition when attempting to reach these targets. These are also mechanisms for increased motivation and engagement, which are among the main goals of successful serious games.

The above list is by no means exhaustive. There are numerous other scientific factors that should be taken into account for the design of a successful serious game, beyond the ever important artistic, ergonomic and aesthetic aspects.


Taking advantage of gamification

Gamification is a productivity tool, which can enable enterprises achieve productivity benefits far beyond conventional training of the work force. However, gamification projects have their own challenges, as the design of proper games is associated with a wide range of technical, economic, social and cultural factors. It is a process that should be tailored to the needs of the enterprise, as there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, even for enterprises in the same sector.

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