Employee Engagement In A New Era

by Steve Bocska

Intrinsic Motivators For Higher Performance

Back in 2019, a Gallup study famously concluded that companies with low employee engagement demonstrated lower productivity, poorer retention, more accidents, and 21% lower profitability. One can only imagine the dramatic amplification of these effect as many unprepared businesses have been forced to shift their working models to ones where employees are more remote, psychologically distant, and disconnected than they’ve ever been before.

Historically we’ve seen that not all engagement strategies are created equal nor work universally in all scenarios. Financial incentive programs can sometimes lower rather than improve performance, while public praise of employee efforts can be met with apathy or even backlash. And now, most important of all, many approaches that were once successful in the past simply don’t work under the current reality of a more distributed and disconnected workforce.

The key to unlocking high-performance within a workforce is intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivators are actions or activities a person finds satisfying for their own sake rather than as a means to achieve some other end. Employees who are intrinsically motivated feel a sense of personal competency. They regard their skills and knowledge as important contributors to doing the task well. The individual realizes meaningful outcomes from the task and become more motivated to complete it. Intrinsic motivation also fosters a sense of autonomy, with employees feeling more independent as their “rewards” come from “within” rather than being controlled by an external source. The result is a heightened sense of empowerment, and consequently, higher performance and employee engagement.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, involves the promise of receiving something from someone else in exchange for compliance, such as completion of a task. In an employee context, this often appears in the form of a financial bonus, additional vacation days, or public recognition. Extrinsic motivators are weaker in the sense that their impacts tend to be short-term and, compared to intrinsic motivators, are rightfully perceived by the individual as being constructed largely beyond their own control.

Applying Advanced Gamification

Some of the most effective strategies for creating intrinsic motivation come from the world of video game design. In this industry, “engagement” is literally the product being sold. To be successful, the creators of these gaming experiences need to continuously draw upon psychological principles that leverage intrinsic motivation to get their customer communities returning again and again without any extrinsic motivation (in fact, the players actually pay for the privilege of playing these games). Increasingly, we’re seeing the greatest success in intrinsic employee motivation from those that adopt these tried-and-tested gameplay design models.

The basic approach for applying advanced gamification principles begins by recognizing that people naturally enjoy doing certain things and then finding ways to layer those activities over their required tasks to make the entire experience more enjoyable and satisfying. Depending on their personality type, different individuals will find certain gamified mechanics more compelling than others. It is very important to not force a single motivational model or interaction mechanic on anyone, but instead give them the freedom of choice and a sense of agency over the experience. That said, these options are generally drawn from the same finite set, namely: completing challenges, collecting things, creative endeavors, competing with others or against oneself, collaboration and communicating with others, and creating order from chaos. Next, we introduce enticing universal emotions – surprise, satisfaction, status, progression, and prestige – by recognizing, encouraging, and rewarding users to do what they intrinsically already enjoy. The result an activity-based engagement design that encourages deep and more meaningful participation.

Applying advanced gamification principles to create intrinsically motivated employees is complex. It requires many expert hands to construct a fully-integrated strategy and choice-based engagement experience that threads through all points of interaction, encouraging and facilitating desired outcomes.  But it also requires extremely sophisticated technologies, an examples of which is PUG’s Picnic Engagement Hub. These platforms should be purpose-built to integrate with existing datasources, CRM, websites, or applications to unleash the full power of engagement and motivation and create employee communities that are more involved, committed, and loyal. They should include sophisticated questing and purposeful activities such as challenges, prizing, and gameplay mechanics, to social login, sharing, and milestones. And lastly, they will need to deliver insight reports to evaluate outcomes and success metrics to be able to measure ROI on the program and make adjustments as necessary.

One reason that introducing greater freedom-of-choice is especially powerful is because of the valuable data it exposes around the decisions being made, which can provide great insight into trends past, current and future. An employee engagement experience designed in such a way can not only collect this decision-based data, but also help uncover the “why” in each choice being made. By analyzing what actions and choices reveal about the community, it becomes possible to confirm assumptions and perform additional tuning to the experience for even better results.

Steve is CEO of PUG Interactive, an award-winning company that uses gameplay principles and technologies to solve challenging business problems. Founded in 2008, PUG Interactive offers a complete, end-to-end approach to get communities active and engaged — creating fun, playful places that foster and measure community identity, reputation, and status. Steve has 19+ years of direct experience in the video game industry, having designed and produced several AAA games for Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, Sega, and Ubisoft that have generated sales in excess of $650 million. In 2006, he became the founding President and CEO of Hothead Games, winner of the Canadian New Media Association’s award for “Most Promising New Company of 2007.”