The carrot or the stick. There’s been an age-old debate over what motivates employee behavior – the possibility of a reward or the risk of punishment.
Over the past few years, as companies shifted travel programs to be more traveler-centric and as a younger generation entered the corporate world, more companies have implemented gamification programs.
A gamification program rewards travelers for compliant or desired behavior using points, prizes, gift cards and money. Such behaviors can include flying coach when employees qualify for business class, staying in a three-star versus a four-star hotel or flying company-preferred carriers versus their own personal preference, all in exchange for rewards.
For many travel managers, it has been a successful tool in reducing costs, driving supplier awareness and adoption, reducing leakage and increasing employee satisfaction.
However, in these uncertain times, travel managers should reevaluate their existing gamification programs for potential risk and to ensure they align with new objectives.
Potential risks of gamification
We must first understand how gamification works to see the potential risks. Let’s examine one scenario. A company uses their employee engagement platform, such as Achievers, to reward compliant behavior.
Here, the travel team identifies behaviors it wishes to drive within the program such as increasing advance purchase or online adoption, reducing claims on rental cars or increasing preferred supplier usage. At the end of each quarter, top compliant travelers from each category are entered into a drawing and winners receive points through the employee engagement platform. There can be tax implications with any prize distribution.
You must, therefore, work with legal and HR on your gamification strategy. And as many companies experience budget cutbacks during these difficult times, it’s important to understand any changes to the platform that may impact your travel rewards program.
In addition to HR and legal concerns, you must consider how your program could impact traveler safety and security. In this example, the company has a program that assigns each traveler a budget for their trip. If the traveler comes in under that budget, they will split the savings with the company.
While this can prove lucrative for both the company and the employee, there are certain duty of care risks that must be addressed. Perhaps the traveler opts to stay with a friend or loved one instead of getting a hotel room to save money and obtain half the savings for themselves. This is likely something few companies would encourage or permit today as you cannot ensure the cleanliness and safety of a private residence. Even opting to downgrade from a four-star to a three-star hotel may no longer be recommended if the hotel doesn’t meet certain hygiene standards.
Can gamification still work?
Companies must strictly enforce travel policy and monitor traveler behavior now more than ever. The ability to easily locate your employees in a time of crisis reinforces the need for program mandates and stricter compliance.
Is this the end of gamification? Not necessarily. Consider suspending current gamification programs and conducting a deep dive analysis of booking behaviors that were taking place. You need to ensure any behavior that was once rewarded is not in direct conflict with your new policies and procedures.
While companies may no longer give travelers the flexibility and choice they once had, they can still use gamification strategies to drive new policy objectives. For example, all companies are faced with many unused ticket credits. A United Premier Platinum member may not want to use their existing Delta credits. Here lies an opportunity to develop a strategy that will incentivize travelers to use existing credits and avoid making future cancellations or changes that will add to the credit surplus.
Companies can make it easy for travelers to book in policy and contribute to the overall success of the program if the right incentives are introduced and the decision-making process is simplified.