Thursday, November 14, 2013

Gamifying Benefits Programs or Top That!

Admit it. You probably like playing games. They may or may not be the same games that I like to play or that your neighbor likes to play, but you like playing games. And, one of the reasons that you like playing games is for the challenge of achievements.

You're part of the Facebook generations. Whether that means you are 14 years old and barely old enough without exaggerating your age to get a Facebook account or you're 40 years old and claim that you originally got on Facebook to watch what your kids were doing or you're 84 years old and you really like the idea of sharing pictures and tales of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, there's a good chance that you spend more time on Facebook than you are willing to admit.

No, this is not an endorsement for Facebook. Some days I love it, some days I hate it. This is more of a look yourself in the mirror moment. When you first got on Facebook, it was probably either a curiosity or just a social thing. But, then you looked at your news feed and you saw that one of your friends had earned a new level in Farmville, or that another friend had passed three people in Candy Crush Saga,or that yet one more friend had played a 100 point word in Words With Friends, and you got that feeling in your brain -- hey, I can do that, too.

So, you started playing one game or another, and admit it, you became a little bit obsessed. Even though I know you won't admit it, you really want all of your friends to see it when your game of choice posts to your wall about your latest success. You puff up with pride and that wry little smile that says, "Top that!"

Before I move forward, I need to apologize to my readers. Many of you know that I would prefer that the English language remain sacrosanct and that we as writers and speakers should use actual words. Yesterday, I came across the words gamification and gamifying and I really doubted that they were words. So, I looked them up, and sure enough, much to my chagrin, they are words that can be found in English language dictionaries. Sad, but true. So, that explains my use of one of them in the title of this post and in other places within the post.

OK, welcome back to the real world.

Corporate HR struggles mightily with ways to make its benefits programs more effective. With large amounts of responsibility being placed on HR to make benefits programs both effective and cost-effective, it takes some creativity to move to the top of the classs.

Bring on gamification!

We're going to have to make participation in programs like this optional due to various privacy laws such as HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, if you really want to know what HIPAA stands for), but I have a suspicion that because we all love games that many of your employees will, with no coercion at all, choose to share their game progress with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even their dreaded second and third level connections. They'll get that sense of pride and be thinking, "Top that!"

Let's consider an example. Modern Cool Company (MCC) has been concerned about its employees' eventual ability to retire. MCC's Director of Benefits Oil Derrick Zoolander (he goes by Derrick) knows that most of MCC's employees don't save any money outside of their 401(k) plan and the data that Derrick gets from the plan's third party administrator (TrustWorthy) suggests that most are not saving much inside their 401(k). Derrick had no idea what to do, and frustrated, he hung out on Facebook.

Eureka, he found it. As he looked at his news feed, dozens of his friends were either posting or allowing their games to post about their accomplishments. Rachel Greene Slime killed her one-millionth enemy in Mafia Wars. Richie Cunningpork leveled up in Pet Saga. Chrissy Snow Flake passed her friend Jonas Grumpy (perhaps a more obscure reference, but Jonas Grumby was the Skipper on Gilligan's Island) and Greg Brainy was heard to be screaming "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia", after being passed by his sister in Vampire Wars.

Derrick went to his graphics people and had them start to develop 401(k) badges. When an employee of MCC named Don Draperies got a financial checkup through the TrustWorthy Adviser System (TWAS), he got a badge. He could toss it in the garbage (no self-respecting game player would ever do that), proudly display it in his cube, or bring it home to show his wife and kids (frankly his kids would be more impressed if he had a similar achievement in World at Warcraft), and perhaps more importantly for his ego, MCC's intranet allows him to collect his badge on there and post it to social media both internally and externally. Don was so excited that he posted it to his Facebook wall with the message, "Top that!"

Seeing the success and excitement of his first badge winner, Derrick went back to his graphics people and created more and more badges. There was the "Increased My Deferrals" badge, the "I Got My Full Match" badge, the "I Paid Off My Loan" badge, the "402(g) Limit" badge and the list goes on.

It only took a little over a year, but Derrick's 401(k) plan was the envy of his peer group, Levels of participation had gone from a measly 41% to 98% during 2014. Other than the one in the first week of January, the MCC 401(k) plan didn't have a single request for a hardship withdrawal the entire year, and Derrick learned right after Christmas that MCC had been named the winner of the Plan Sponsor of the Year Award for 2014 and that he would get to accept the award for the company. And, you know of course what he was going to do with that knowledge -- he posted it to Facebook with the status, "Top that!"

I know it sounds stupid and I know there may be legal hurdles and I know that you probably don't think gamification is a word, but consider it. Give it a try. Thank me later.

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