Can Gamification Improve Corporate EHS Performance?
Gamification in the workplace is emerging as a way to engage employees, making them more enthusiastic about their jobs and more committed to the company’s mission. And some innovative companies are finding that playing games can help them improve their environmental performance and meet corporate sustainability goals as well.
Gamification in the workplace uses elements of game playing — point scoring, competition among co-workers, prizes — to engage employees. As Gabe Zichermann, author of the upcoming book The Gamification Revolution, says in an interview with CIO: “Its about figuring out ways to create alignment with incentives and motivation. You increase productivity [and] performance and you can attract a higher-quality employee, this next generation of employees or millennials generation who bring with them their increased technology skills,” says Zichermann.
Companies with engaged employees perform better. Not only do they save billions of dollars in productivity and employee retention, but they also make more money. A recent Gallup study on the effect of employee engagement on organizations’ bottom line found top-quartile businesses outperform their bottom-quartile counterparts by 21 percent in profitability and 20 percent in productivity.
Gamification can also help companies get their employees involved in — and excited about — corporate environmental, health and safety initiatives.
Cool Choices is a nonprofit that helps organizations improve their sustainability performance and cut costs — to the tune of about $3.6 million annually to date. It does this through a game-based platform: employees play an online card game and earn points for making “cool choices,” actions that save money and help the environment.
The cards display a mix of home and work-related sustainability actions. They focus on water and emissions savings along with waste-reduction and recycling, such as walking or using public transit to get to work, turning off the computer monitor when not in use and properly recycle unused electronics.
Many of the actions are personal habits associated with employees’ home life, with the theory being that sustainable choices at home will carry over into sustainable choices in the workplace, explains Cool Choices’ Danika Brubaker. “We focus on personal habits so that individuals can see the personal benefits in their own wallet; because they are sharing these practices with their workplace colleagues, we see good spillover to workplace habits.”
Companies can also customize their employees’ cards to focus on specific facility-related environmental health and safety actions.
Employees play the game for six or eight weeks, logging in on their phone or at their desk for a few minutes each morning.
“You play your cards and get points for your team,” Brubaker said in an interview. “When you play the action, you click on the card, it flips over and there are resource links you so you can see more related actions, such as how to start a compost bin at work. The cards also ask, ‘Did you do this before the game or because of the game?’ so we can calculate new savings. Our ultimate goal is to reduce carbon, but there’s also wellness, safety, water savings. And new actions are released every day.”
At the end of the six-week game, there’s an individual winner and a winning team. Cool Choices provides prizes — reusable water bottles, for example — and many employees provide their own prizes and recognition to the winners as well.
Some of Cool Choice’s clients include ComEd, which saw 302 employees play the game and save money ($137,851), carbon (625.05 metric tons of CO2 equivalent) and water (1.7 million gallons) over the course of eight weeks.
Another is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). One hundred forty five employees at its Belvidere, Illinois assembly plant played the eight-week game in May and June and saved $59,523 and 264.98 metric tons of CO2e. FCA also integrated specific workplace practices into the program to increase the workplace savings.
“We wanted awareness of safety and environmental policies,” said the plant’s environmental lead, Michael Keefe, in an interview. “From a program standpoint and in the context of our manufacturing system, we want to maximize employee engagement, awareness and involvement. This is always a challenge, to communicate and raise awareness, and we thought Cool Choices would be an innovative way to do that.”
Keefe says FCA’s cards focused on sustainability in general as well as specific actions targeting energy, water, recycling and safety. “We had card, ‘did you turn off your computer monitor at the end of your shift?’ We asked for suggestions and energy, water and waste — tell me something you’ve recycled today that you’ve never recycled before. We have a lot of fans on the assembly line for comfort, so we had a card about turning those off at the end of the shift. Things like this that anyone can make a suggestion about or take action on to impact our EHS program.”
The company’s goal in playing Cool Choices was to improve its EHS performance by engaging employees on these efforts. “We wanted to do something different, engage employees in a different way and expand the role they play in environmental efforts both at home and at work,” Keefe says.
Judging from the savings metrics and the employee comments at the end of the game — “I realized I was only seeing the tip of the ice burg” and “I’ve started picking up other people’s recyclables” — it worked.
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