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The Connection Between Play and Problem-Solving

Young Boy Playing at Montessori/Pre-School

In an effort to engage young employees, more employers are turning to gamification, giving users the opportunity to tackle business problems and other typically dry corporate activities via video games.

In 2011 analysts at Gartner Inc. predicted more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations would have at least one gamified application by the end of this year. According to the report, “Gamification: Engagement Strategies for Business and IT,” these applications engage users by providing “motivation, momentum and meaning.”

Therefore, it makes sense that companies would harness this technology not only to improve the customer experience, but also to increase learning opportunities for Generation Y employees, who are constantly on the hunt for meaning at work.

“Because millennials grew up playing video games, it’s really natural that they would play something gamified, where they win points for completing different tasks,” said Dan Schawbel, managing partner for Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm, and author of “Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success.”

According to Wharton management professor Kevin Werbach, workplace gamification must surpass Gartner’s “M3” explanation and instead feature eight aspects to promote business success: problem solving, exploration, teamwork, recognition, success, surprise and novelty, creativity and knowledge sharing.

Interactive learning programs at millennial-friendly companies often provide examples of several, if not all, of these qualities. For instance, AT&T’s innovation pipeline, called TIP, is an online community where employees have a chance to shape their future, according to Julie Bugala, the company’s vice president of talent management.

TIP is essentially an idea-submitting portal where each idea is voted on through crowdsourcing technology. The best ideas are integrated into the workplace and allow employees to gain recognition. “Gen Ys love a place where they can submit their ideas and be heard,” Bugala said.

While TIP provides young talent with recognition and a creative outlet, it also incorporates most of Werbach’s other requirements for success. The popularity of programs like TIP — Bugala said the pipeline has about 130,000 users who have generated 20,000 innovative ideas — promotes the benefits of gamification in the workplace.

“It’s become less about giving employees a book to read and more about creating interactivity and engagement,” Schawbel said.

This article is a sidebar to Chief Learning Officer's October 2014 feature, "How Much Should You Invest in Millennials?"