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COMMENTARY: Gamification aims to make workplace safety engaging


Gamification is gaining increasing attention as an employee management tool. It's a concept that borrows from video game mechanics and video games' ability to inspire players to strive for higher point scores, and it's gaining attention at a time when I am also hearing that employers are eager to boost employee engagement in a range of workplace initiatives, including safety programs.

Gamification proponents believe it can motivate employees to repeatedly access certain tools, such as safety-incentive program Web pages or electronic messages with periodic safety tips. And the modern-day format can measure worker participation while also being more engaging than the old-style workplace safety posters, they say.

“Safety posters are great, but they disappear in the mind's eye,” said Michael Levy, president of Dallas-based Online Rewards, a company that provides businesses with loyalty and incentive program services. “You have to have something that is alive and active in order for the brain to react to it.”

Using the gamification concept, an employer can create a Web page for employees depicting, for example, a graphic representation of a bucket full of cash that workers will receive at the end of a certain period. But every time a workplace accident is recorded during that time period, some of that cash draws down.

Similar to creating fantasy football leagues, an employer could create worker teams to compete against each other based on certain safety success scores. Individual and team performances could be measured, Mr. Levy said.

Or an employer can simply load points onto a Web page for each day workers complete without an accident, with the points eventually being redeemed for prizes.

It strikes me as very similar to traditional safety incentive programs where managers hand out prizes when employees go a certain amount of days without an accident, I told Mr. Levy.

Gamification can help “programitize” a safety culture, making safety more pervasive throughout an organization, he said.

“We are giving (safety programs) dimension and breathing life back into them in a manner that touches the audience more frequently,” Mr. Levy said. Thus, they should produce better outcomes.

Gamification already has been successful in retail sales. Think of the customer loyalty programs that reward you for spending more or when you use the store's credit card. There are a variety of other uses when business want to incentivize behavior, such as encouraging employees to participate in wellness programs.

Because most workers are now familiar with video games and retail store loyalty programs, they are ready for gamification in the workplace, Mr. Levy said.

However, I suspect it will take time to see whether workers set down their favorite online games to check into the workplace safety website.