Employee compensation: Money games

Mixing business and pleasure can pay off by helping to retain workers.

In an era of massive restructurings, it might seem a little odd that companies would still peg staff retention at the top of their priority lists. But as some companies struggle to find creative ways of downsizing, others are trying their best to keep their employees. In an effort to quell low morale and high turnover among younger employees, some companies are even using tools such as video games to keep people motivated and to reward their productivity.

Mixing business and pleasure is what Wyoming-based Snowfly does with its flagship product, Capstone, a web-based software application that administers and manages point-driven incentive programs. Capstone gives employees who meet their objectives a chance to play online games from which they earn rewards such as cash in the form of a reloadable Visa card (the most popular option), electronic gift certificates and gift cards.

Snowfly founder Brooks Mitchell, a former professor of management at the University of Wyoming believes workers will strive higher to achieve workplace goals if they can obtain an instant reward for their efforts. The Capstone program was launched about five years ago and is now installed at roughly 30 American companies, most successfully in call centres and customer service jobs, as well as an Avis car rentals outlet in Fredericton. And, says Tyler Mitchell, director of business development, there’s a simple reason for that customer base. “They’re typically environments that are in need of excitement on the job and in need of ways to keep their employees engaged.”

Andy Orr agrees. The president of Press-One, a Colorado-based company that has 320 employees who provide call centre services, believes staff retention has been increased during the past two years because of Snowfly. The company will even let employees get mid-week advances on their salaries as part of the program. “Last year we turned over almost 2,000 employees, whereas this year it was 830, so we’ve cut our turnover rate by 60%,” he says. “What we’ve introduced is not just a job, but a lifestyle based on productivity.”

And lifestyle is a key factor companies must keep in mind when creating incentive programs geared toward the younger generations, says Cheryl Cran, a Vancouver-based workplace consultant whose forthcoming book, Who is Really in Control?: 101 Ways to Keep Gen X, Y and Z Happy at Work, is slated for publication next spring.

Cran has heard of companies that reward productivity with technological upgrades, such as new phones, competitions to win a laptop or Mac and by giving out free coupons to activities such as paintball, indoor sky diving and even weekend getaways to Las Vegas. Time off is also a big incentive, with employees getting a Friday off if they meet a particular quota.

Cran believes the potential for expanding non-traditional incentive programs in Canada is very high. “Canadians are much more traditional in our work model as opposed to Europe, so there’s a lot of resistance out there,” she says. “But change is inevitable, because you cannot engage Generation X and Y any other way.”