Play Games, Get Fit

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Online social media games can engage employees and motivate them to improve their health much more effectively than traditional health and wellness programs, according to Adam Bosworth, founder of Keas, a company that develops online social games. Bosworth spoke in the concurrent session "Make It Fun: Why Social Games Are So Effective at Improving Employee Wellness and Engagement," at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2012 Annual Conference held here June 24-27.

“These days employees are running scared,” Bosworth said. They’re stressed, eating poorly, under-rested and increasingly obese. “Basically, what has happened is a tidal wave of unfitness,” Bosworth said.

But HR professionals often find that employees don’t participate in wellness programs. “Getting people started, getting people to change things—that’s the hard part,” he said.

Bosworth thinks online social games can pull people in and keep them engaged in healthy activities. “When you roll out a game for employees, you’ve just given them a socially sanctioned way to have fun,” he said. “This isn’t fun once,” he added. “This is something they get to do every day.”

The online social game from Bosworth’s company rewards people for having healthy behaviors. Individuals get points for activities such as going on more walks, eating healthy foods, getting more sleep, taking health risk assessments and health quizzes, and taking breaks during the workday to exercise.

“Once they start playing the game, it’s all about points,” Bosworth said.

HR pros and business leaders may be reluctant to give employees games to play during work; after all, online games can be addictive. Bosworth’s game gives employees 15 minutes of “power” each day that they can use to play the game and collect points. After 15 minutes, they can keep playing, but they won’t earn points. HR professionals also are given tools to monitor use of the game by employees.

An important component of the game is a leader board so employees can track each other’s progress as well as their own accomplishments. “A product that measures how well you’re doing can be a motivator,” Bosworth said.

Similarly, players post public comments on a social feed. In the posts, people root each other on and even talk about their personal lives. The posts tend to be overwhelmingly positive. As Bosworth said, if a game is social and encourages teamwork, it will create positive social interaction. And employees get healthier at the same time.

Employees don’t compete against each other directly but are members of self-formed teams that compete against other teams. Team members motivate each other to participate and earn more points for the team. “Fundamentally, the game works because you’re accountable to your co-workers,” Bosworth said.

To encourage continued participation, teams must earn points to advance to higher levels. But employees aren’t required to join teams and play the game. “If you make a game mandatory, it’s not fun,” he said.

John Scorza is associate editor for HR Magazine. To read the orginal article, please click here.