A new study shows that adding gaming elements to the performance feedback process can increase employee effort, especially when extrinsic motivation is low and internal task motivation is high.
Effective performance feedback is a key factor in successfully managing and motivating employees. Companies recognize that what information the employee receives and how frequently can impact the effectiveness of the feedback. One variable not always considered, however, is how the feedback is delivered.
Gaming offers some innovative ways to present performance feedback beyond the annual performance appraisal or periodic vocal or written praise from managers. A study based at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, used a simple laboratory experiment to test the effectiveness of four gaming elements in increasing employee effort. The experiment also allowed researchers to observe whether extrinsic motivation and task motivation increased or decreased the impact of the gaming elements.
In the experiment, participants were given a code key — consisting of a string of numbers and the letter each number represented — and then given words in the form of numbers. Participants were then asked to decode the words. Once they had finished their string of words, they were asked if they wanted to decode another set of words (with a different code). At the end of every set of completed words, participants were asked if they wanted to continue.
The variables in the experiment were manipulated as follows:
The four gaming elements used in the experiment were:
Analysing the data from the experiment, the researchers drew the following conclusions:
Supplementing basic feedback with elements of gaming can have a significant impact on the motivation of your employees. However, note the caveats highlighted by this research. Extrinsically motivated employees, for example, are less likely to increase their already increased motivation to put in more effort. Task motivation, on the other hand, increases the impact of gaming elements. Thus, introducing gaming elements in combination with task-related enhancements of some kind can make a significant difference in employee effort.
The fact that the most effective individual gaming elements were related to competition (leaderboards) and context (narrative) is also illuminating. While too much competition among employees has been shown to be counterproductive, some competition can be motivating — as is offering some context for the employee’s task.
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