Feature Article - September/October 2012

Employee Engagement Roundtable

Game Components, Social Media, Mobile Are Top Industry Trends

By Deborah L. Vence

Q: What are some of the latest trends in employee engagement programs?

Barb Hendrickson: I just read an article in Forbes titled, "The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Employees" matching charitable contributions. The premise is that HR professionals recognize that an important component of any employee retention strategy is a diverse corporate volunteer program. Volunteer programs are certainly a way to encourage employees to get involved, but if the definition of "engagement" is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals, I'm thinking that a bunch of other factors need to be in place before this is the piece that tips the engagement scale—especially since they claim that the matching gift is so attractive that it can be included in the employee's compensation package.

As I'm seeing it, the latest trend in just about any type of employee or consumer program is gamification: adding game components to an otherwise non-game environment. Some examples are using game components in training programs and in incentive, recognition and wellness programs. It's a great way to make sure that employees receive information, and in online and virtual programs, very easy to share progress and promote competition to complete assignments or training modules. Breaking complicated information into small pieces that can be conveyed through game components ensures that the employee gets the information and stays engaged throughout the process.

Games are by definition engaging, so it makes sense that adding game components to a program or even to the daily interaction with employees can increase engagement with the company, with co-workers and with the tasks at hand.

Stacey Wilson: One of the things Hinda is seeing since the Great Recession is the reemergence of employee engagement programs. I think employers are feeling vulnerable to losing their good employees. They need to get back to developing incentive programs that generate engagement. Hinda is seeing a comeback of those mid-size programs that were cut a few years back to cut costs. I see the trend leaning toward social media, gamification and mobile.

Mike Ryan: The first is that there is a shift in executive thinking. The C-suite is buying into the idea that in order for their companies to succeed in the marketplace and grow at a faster rate than their competitors, they must have engaged employees. Recognition's role as a viable part of the compensation mix has been recognized by thought leaders—ranging from Harvard Business Review to McKinsey Quarterly to PricewaterhouseCoopers. But, as C-suite executives embrace it as a part of an efficient and effective solution, they also want to see a stronger business case. How does the use of recognition compare financially to other alternatives in play, and perhaps more importantly, how does it align with our strategic growth initiatives moving forward as a business?

Shifting to the tactical side, HR executives are responsible for optimizing the economic impact of the company's employees. They are being asked to do more with less with their engagement initiatives. They are being asked to be much more efficient; and, more importantly, they are being asked to align those programs with the practical challenges the business faces. Some of those practical challenges involve integrating employee behavior with customer expectations, promoting higher levels of collaboration, promoting innovation—things that the organization is dealing with every day.