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Virtually Awesome: How Smart Companies Use Video Games to Recruit, Retain Employees

As a former Super Nintendo addict enthusiast, I was both excited and surprised to come across this recent Go magazine article about the growing number of companies using interactive software and video games as employee training and development tools.

Excited, of course, because it seems like a cool, fun way to engage employees (and brought back fond memories of watching Mario hop around in a Frog suit)…But also surprised by just how many companies are embracing this trend: A reported 70 percent of major domestic employers used these “serious games” to train employees in 2008, according to the Entertainment Software Association.  That figure is estimated to increase to 80 percent by 2013.

It’s encouraging to see employers move away from more traditional training methods like white papers, PowerPoint presentations and training calls - many of which seem as if they were designed to be tuned out (apologies if this is news to anyone) – and toward more engaging methods.  According to the article, those who use these training techniques say that video games help employees build business skills by putting them in situations that require critical thinking and decision making.

Not to mention that being able to interact through computer simulation programs helps employees retain complicated information better than they would using other, more traditional training techniques.

Of course, the obvious downsides to using video gaming techniques to train is that the time and cost spent setting up and designing the customized software could be significant, depending on the complexity of the project.  And then there’s the not-so-minor fact that simulations can’t completely replace actual human interaction…But none of this is to say this technology doesn’t hold value (so long as its viewed as a supplement to, and not a replacement for, real world training) – and many will argue that the business benefits ultimately outweigh the costs.

No Longer Just a Training Tool…
In addition to helping companies develop employees’ business skills, more companies are utilizing video games in their recruiting and branding efforts as well. Here are a few examples:

  • Candidate Attraction: The MITRE Corporation, for example, enables job seekers to download a 3D video game that gives players a better understanding of the company’s campus, how the interview process works, and view examples of company projects. Similarly, staffing firm Kelly Services has a virtual community in Second Life that gives job seekers an interactive experience to see what it’s like to work for Kelly, create buzz and differentiate Kelly from its competitors. In August 2009, the U.S. Army opened its Experience Center at a Philadelphia shopping mall, where potential recruits can play military videogames and learn about military bases and career options in an interactive way – helping the Army meet and exceed its recruiting and retention goals.
  • Employee Engagement: Kansas City-based benefits provider Assurant launched the gaming suite, “It’s Your Business,” in 2007 with the goal of helping employees better understand the business in order to boost sales. What it ended up with was increased employee engagement and knowledge retention.  Today, employees are even more involved in the project, as they are the source of input for developing new training games.
  • Employee Retention: In efforts to help employees relieve stress, refocus and (most importantly) avoid burnout, companies are increasingly relying on video games – turning their ordinary break rooms into game zones.  At the offices of the Chicago-based tee shirt company Threadless, taking a break to play a little Guitar Hero is an everyday occurrence for employees. And recently, Phoenix-based Multi-Systems, Inc. gave its employees a $10,000 budget to design a game room for them to unwind in, as a thank you for making various pay and benefits sacrifices the previous year.

Where does your company fall among these other companies and their efforts? Does your company use interactive programs to engage current or potential employees? If so, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below…

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.


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