Gamification in pensions communication

Games used to mean playtime. But not any more, as gamification moves into the workplace.


If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Gamification is a trend to employ game mechanics in non-game environments.
  • Employees could receive a reward for completing a games process.
  • Gamified design of pension communications must not be tedious.
  • By 2015, 50% of organisations will gamify innovation processes (Gartner).

According to technology research firm Gartner’s Future of gamification report, published in May 2012, by 2015 more than 50% of organisations globally that manage innovation process, which includes HR and benefits, will gamify those procedures.

Gartner describes gamification as the “trend of employing game mechanics to non-game environments” Game science and emerging technology are helping employers to take up this opportunity to use game-like techniques in their benefits communications.

Pensions are a focal point for employers as they try to meet the challenge posed by the government and auto-enrolment legislation to increase the number of employees saving into a pension scheme.

Neil Campbell, director of actuarial and pensions services at Deloitte, says: “Most employees find pensions complex and a bit dull, or both, but a game-like environment offers an option to increase levels of engagement and change employees’ thinking about pensions. Gamification principles are a good channel to educate people on.”

Pension communications could build genres of games, which may have similarities to the likes of Call of Duty or those that are played on smartphones, such as Candy Crush Saga.

Employers could leverage game mechanics, such as points, levels, badges, rewards, characters, stories and achievements, alongside game design to spark interest among employees.

Ian Brownhill, chief executive officer and co-founder of communications agency BergHind Josep, says: “Pensions could use a lot of scenarios and can also be presented online in a more digital environment. It could be something like a build-up simulation scenario to help build up an employee’s pension fund or the game could present an employee with different scenarios that relate to them but have outcomes that highlight what changes might be needed.”

Energy firm E.On is just one example (see box) of how gamification can be used in pension communications to help employees understand auto-enrolment and rewarded staff who were able come top in a ’Who wants to be a millionaire’ themed game.

Electronic Arts also used gamification to increase pension knowledge and take up of its pension scheme. It took employees on a journey of pension-based questions, which had surprising answers, and many did not realise the effect of delaying pension contributions until the age of 30. The use of gamification led to a 25% increase of staff in the pension scheme and led staff aged 30 to 40 to increase pension contributions.

“Electronic Arts’ ‘Are you in the driving seat?’ is a great example of how gamification can increase pension knowledge and take up,” says Katie Goodwin, lead product manager at Thomsons Online Benefits. “The traditional paper-based benefits experience is often time-consuming and disjointed with employees being sent dull, wordy and disengaging materials. Gamification is new and different. Gaming has now become ubiquitous in our culture.”

Those game-like techniques could also be used in other situations in pension communications to help keep employees informed about investment options and decisions at retirement, which all encourage engagement throughout an employees working life.

“Employees and users of this type of game-like communication need to be engaged in the whole pension process,” says Dom Manley, product manager at Lorica Employee Benefits. “It’s about an end-to-end journey from beginning till end that will motivate employees. Gamification is about creating goals and challenges throughout for employees to understand what they can do to get a better pot at retirement.”

However, gamification is not new. Nick Throp, co-founder of communication consultancy Like Minds remembers how games where being used 20 years ago to help get employees interested in certain subjects, including pensions.

“It is not new, in terms of getting employees engaged with pensions, 10 to 20 years ago employers would use board games to help get employees interested in the subject,” he says. “The key difference now is the nature of the gaming experience which can provided greater levels of engagement in pensions by using it in the communication process. It is now a much more rich, user-friendly experience.”

Gamification in pension communications is not about making a game for the sake of it. To make it work, an employer has to make sure it teaches employees something but employers need to be careful with the way gamification is structured, which could lead to having a less desirable impact on its required audience.

Throp adds: “We associate games with the younger generation aged eight to 18 playing the likes of Call of Duty, FIFA or Grand Theft Auto. Pensions will never be an exciting subject for that age group, so employers have to get it right and create a game which suits their audience. It could be a little bit embarrassing if they don’t know what they are doing because people do not want to play pension games when they could be playing the Playstation 4.”

Deloitte’s Campbell agrees: “Pensions is a very serious issue, if you make it too much of a game and too light-hearted employees will not take it seriously. It is about making it work in pension communications and not making it into too much of a Mickey Mouse.”

Steve Sims, vice president of solutions and design at Badgeville, the gamification platform for businesses, thinks that gamification could go further than just pension communication and be used in all forms of benefit communication to engage employees.

The opportunities in pension communications are clear. It engages employees, can boost take-up and helps make pensions less boring, especially for younger generations.

Lorica’s Manley says: “I think it is very effective, anything that can help communicate pensions in a better way, that can not only help improve take-up, but also help communicate to employees at-retirement is a welcome tool to boost pensions engagement.”

Case study: E.On uses games to drive up pensions membership


For energy firm E.On, the use of gamification was about getting as many employees as possible engaged in the auto-enrolment process after it decided to auto-enrol all employees, not just the statutory minimum.

The organisation had two stages of gamification at two different times of the process as its plan was to use game-like techniques to engage employees and get them to join the pension scheme voluntarily before its staging date in March 2013. Its gamification techniques were designed and provided by Benefex.

E.On firstly distributed scratch cards modelled on the National Lottery to non-members of its group personal pension scheme a year before its staging date, which coincided with the annual opportunity to join the scheme. The scratch panels gave examples of forecast pension pots for different contribution rates.

Ant Donaldson, reward and benefits manager at E.On, says: “There were some fairly eye-catching figures in there, although it was not a competition it introduced this theme we wanted to get across to staff about not gambling with retirement.

“It got a lot of attention and as a result 750 employees joined the pension scheme.”

This was followed by a ’Who wants to be a millionaire’ style game to coincide the government launching its auto-enrolment campaign. The organisation sent out a series of emails and postcards to non-members with bite-size information and key facts about the pension scheme, and was followed up by a light-hearted interactive video quiz on the organisation’s intranet, called ‘Who wants to be comfortably retired’.

“This is where gamification really came in,” says Donaldson. “The quiz questions were based on the pension scheme facts we had sent out and we wanted to see that employees had really understood and absorbed our communication messages.”

There were three cash prizes for employees who got all questions right, with names picked out of a hat, with first placed receiving £1,000, second £500 and third £250 in their Christmas pay.

The organisation allowed another opportunity for employees to join the scheme and as a result of using gamification a further 1,000 employees joined. Once the organisation auto-enrolled only 8% of its 11,000 employees opted out.

Donaldson says: “Gamification was just one element, it helped create a buzz for the organisation, it helps make pensions less boring. We got our message across to more employees than we would have done if we did not use gamification. It really did have a positive impact on auto-enrolment.”

Viewpoint: Ways to gamify your workplace


An organisation gamifying their internal HR practices can have a tremendous impact on its success, morale, talent acquisition and HR processes.

In fact, adding behaviour-motivating techniques from traditional and social games to HR workflows and programmes can significantly boost employee take-up, participation and engagement, and help an organisation get the most from its HR technology investments.

Once the employee is hired, gamification can promote a positive organisation culture, rewarding employees for cross-departmental collaboration or participating in company-wide volunteer programmes.

Gamification can also help motivate employees to complete training and other required programmes within an allotted time. This can be especially valuable for encouraging participation in programmes that don’t relate directly to employees day-to-day jobs, such as engaging staff in pensions.

But gamifying the completion of benefits, travel and expense reporting paperwork would motivate timely and accurate submission. Employees might even compete for the title of being the best expense reporter, especially if there are tangible rewards on the line.

Organisations can also use gamification to create ongoing reward programmes or mission-based career paths that show employees what steps they must achieve to earn promotions, bonuses and other rewards.

Employers can even design a programme that allows other employees to award points and recognise fellow team members to boost camaraderie and collaboration.

This technique makes the path to success more transparent, and provides a strong incentive for employees, resulting in a more productive and goal-oriented workforce.

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A growing number of organisations are finding that adding gamification to their HR, benefits and talent management programmes is a fun and entertaining way to not only boost employee morale, investment and engagement, but also improve compliance and efficiency in HR processes.

Steve Sims is vice president of solutions and design at Badgeville