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Gamifying onboarding is becoming more popular and here's why

Eve Davies-Greenwald Jan 29, 2019 9:00:00 AM

Employee onboarding is a vital aspect of bringing new hires into the fold and providing them with the tools needed to be successful. In fact, a well-designed onboarding program has been shown to increase retention rates and ramp up productivity levels faster. Onboarding in the first 90 days to 6 months can have a dramatic impact on how knowledgeable, engaged, and loyal your new employees will be. Here are some interesting facts, according to research:

  • Newly hired employees are 58 percent more likely to still be at the same company three years later if they had participated in a structured onboarding program.
  • 66 percent of companies that have onboarding programs claim a higher rate of employee assimilation into the company culture. 
  • One-third of employees reported quitting a job within the first six months of taking it; the biggest reason stated was not knowing clear responsibilities and expectations of their new job. 
  • 54 percent of new hires with companies that have a structured onboarding process claim a higher rate of productivity.

The usual approach to onboarding

Many companies are still behind when it comes to onboarding new hires. And it’s a costly, unnecessary problem. Urbanbound shares that, “In the U.S. and U.K., an estimated $37 billion is spent annually to keep unproductive employees who don’t understand their job.” If these same employees had been given an adequate onboarding, they would have a clear idea of their role and how they contribute to the overall success of their new employer. It has been estimated that it takes around a year for a new employee to become proficient at their role and with a ramp up delay like that, you'd think onboarding would be more of a priority for companies wanting to decrease the time it takes to become productive.

The general approach to onboarding usually follows a similar pattern:

  1. Day one: Orientation, where a ton of boring information is thrown at the new hire. The overwhelm begins.
  2. Week one: Employee meets the team and starts job shadowing, but sometimes is exposed to the bad habits or attitudes of other employees.
  3. Week two: Employer starts assigning work tasks to the new hire, expecting the employee to ‘catch on’ soon.
  4. Week three: Employee starts to fail and doesn’t know where to go to for help. Manager too busy to care.
  5. Week four: Employee continues to feel frustrated, is not productive and either decides to keep trying or leave the organization. Either way, it costs the company a lot in lost production or replacement hire fees.
  6. Cycle starts all over again.

This is seen in organizations over and over again. It seems that HR puts all their attention and effort on the first couple days and weeks of a new hire’s experience, but then other priorities become more pressing and often little is done with a new hire until their 3 month (or sometimes 6 month) probation checkpoint. If employees need a year to become great at their jobs, then there needs to be an onboarding process design that carries new hires through these first 12 months. Now you might be thinking: sounds great but my human resource team doesn't have the time for that. Don't worry. Technology resources can help support this goal and take some of the strain off your HR department. And don't forget about your management team. Updating your onboarding approach may mean managers need a few new strategies on how to handle new hires. But when employees have access to technology like pre-boarding modules, gamification of onboarding training sections, and regular meetings with management, they can better set strategic goals that align with the company and have a more productive onboarding experience.

Pro-tip: Learn more about building effective onboarding programs with this free ebook

What is gamified onboarding?

Are visions of video games coming to mind? Gamified onboarding is actually fairly straightforward -- it’s the addition of gaming elements to the learning content used in new hire onboarding. For example, a training on customer service can be turned into a game, where users rack up points the better they perform virtual tasks -- like using the right answering script or being prompt when answering the virtual phone. Users can then work on "leveling up" as they move through their training.

Keep in mind that gamification can also be deployed without technology, but still requires some creativity. For example, a game when training employees on a safety topic could include them going around the building physically conducting a series of interviews with current employees and the safety manager. They must turn in their answers at the end of the activity, and review them with the rest of the new hire class.

The focus of gamification of the onboarding process is to make things interesting and fun, while giving a great first impression of the company. At the same time, gamification can help to increase the rate at which new hires retain information so they can apply it to their new role. Science has shown that when information is delivered in a gamification mode, it is easier for human minds to absorb and retain information. Some of this comes from the control that the game player (employee) has and some of it is stems from the way the gaming content format stimulates other parts of the brain.

You may be asking, how can I set up gamification of our current employee onboarding process? Well, here are some ideas:

  • Decide what onboarding elements can be delivered using a learning management system as opposed to live speakers and instructors. This could be things like pre-boarding (what to expect during your first day on the job), the first weeks of orientation (introduction to the company, how to find things in the building, about the company products and services offered, typical customers and interactions, procedures to follow, new tasks to perform, challenges of the job, and more.)
  • Work closely with an instructional design team to create these learning modules in a corporate learning management system. This requires meeting with the ID’s to clarify the goals of each onboard lesson, the tone, the look, and if there will be live videos or mostly animations. There are limitless games that can be added to the onboarding lessons, to make them memorable. If there are games that are traditionally added to your standard onboarding process, these can also be created for online use.
  • Increase the value of your gamified onboarding system with things like knowledge checks, stored templates and handbooks, training materials, and a directory of managers and support staff. Include a way for employees to share their feedback and make suggestions for improvement. Consider including badges so that employees can demonstrate they are advancing to their peers and management.

By the way, The Aberdeen Group study also found that when companies made use of gamification in onboarding, they increased employee engagement by as much as 48 percent and reduced turnover by one-third. So taking the chance and revamping your onboarding system might be really worth your time and effort.

Read more: Check out these 8 tips to improve your onboarding process

Gamification in the onboarding process

There are an increasing number of companies that are using gamification in learning. One success story is LiveOps, a call center business, that has included gamification in its onboarding and training programs. Since implementing gamified onboarding, within a week, LiveOps reported, “Onboarding time was reduced from 160 hours to 14 hours and participating agents outperformed peers by 23% in average call handle time and boosted customer satisfaction by 9%.”

Another company that decided gamification was right for their new hires and current employees is Domino’s Pizza. Management needed to be able to get new hires up to speed quickly on their menu items, so they hired an outside firm to create a gamified mini-course. Employees participated in the game, learning all the toppings and techniques to build all the pizzas that Domino’s is famous for. Augmented by printable job training resources and points and achievements earned, employees responded well. This produced a much more capable and confident workforce.

Gamified onboarding vs regular onboarding

What is the difference between onboarding that includes gamification and onboarding that doesn’t? One way to find out the impact for your organization is to ask your new hires who have participated in gamification and those who have not what their experiences were like and what information they were able to retain. There’s a good chance there will be a lot of eye-rolling when asked about the non-gamified version of onboarding. But when asked about the gamified onboarding, they will likely remember this with a more positive outlook.

The difference is the experience that candidates and new hires will have with your company. Gamification adds fun to the onboarding process, and helps new hires absorb information they later need on the job. When made a regular part of your onboarding and training process, gamification helps employees stay plugged in to the company, makes onboarding less stressful, and improves the chance that they will stick around long enough to be productive.

 Employee Onboarding Guide

Topics: Talent Management, Employee Onboarding

Eve Davies-Greenwald

Written by Eve Davies-Greenwald

Marketing Manager