Should Employees Play for Sustainability?

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

Can game dynamics motivate employees to sustainability goals? (photo by Gary Leonard)
By Eric Raymond

People play games for three billion hours a week.  Do you know what they are doing for the other few billion hours?  Working.

These two activities, it turns out, might not be as far apart as business leaders may think. For companies trying to influence behavior, gaming mechanics are today’s hot trend. Is putting some points on a leaderboard the trick helping marketers motivate consumers to behave as they wish?  Even though there is science behind the behavior and success to be found, game dynamics are a far cry from the silver bullet. Clear results from this trend are as hard to secure as the mayorship of the local diner. Foursquare, the trend’s poster child, is trying to distance the company from the concept. Not all companies can attach a game layer to their business plan, so what can game dynamics do for these companies on the path to sustainability?

Many businesses may be better suited to turn persuasive practices on themselves as a way to push forward internal sustainability goals. A TechCrunch post outlines a number of different gaming mechanics that are employed by SCVNGR, but at the core, gamification plays on people’s inner drives for psychological satisfaction. Tools like achievements, appointment dynamics and envy can ignite motivations and help people take action. What if companies jumped in to game dynamics, not for an external marketing program but as a means to motivate their internal workforce towards sustainability goals?

Zero waste, for instance, might be more easily achieved.  As an objective in sustainability departments across the world, one of the hardest facets of reaching zero waste is unifying the effort within the organization to motivate different departments and apathetic employees.  Game dynamics can be leveraged to inspire organizations step-by-step because, unlike performance bonuses that solely draw on employee motivations for money, game dynamics can draw on dozens of behavioral traits and drive behavior and focus them towards a shared company goal.

According to Adam Loving, “good gamification can amplify the intrinsic rewards of a particular behavior – to increase the feeling of fun, flow or accomplishment.”

Walmart has created My Sustainability Plan to help employees live better lives. Leveraging game dynamics to elevate social and wellness programs encourages participants to take a more energetic role in their health. They increase program involvement, driving benefits that serve the employee but also ripple through the company.  An increase in employee engagement will help businesses combat the $300 billion in productivity lost from disengaged employees unearthed by a Gallop study.

While the novelty of virtual rewards and badges can quickly wear off, engaging employees to game to achieve the sustainability initiatives and goals of their company has the opportunity to capture people and change behavior, increasing employee performance, retention and the bottom line.  For companies looking to engage their workforce in the sustainability journey, game dynamics may be just the win they are looking for.