Games have been around for eons. They bring together—or divide—friends, families, communities and even nations. Games challenge minds and bodies. Games bring out competitive spirit. Games can be played and watched. There are few things in human existence that are such powerful motivators. So it should come as no surprise that game theory can be used in the area of employee benefits

One company, ACI Specialty Benefits of San Diego, has incorporated game theory extensively throughout its recently launched employee benefits portal. This strategy is also known as “gamification,” which simply means incorporating elements of games in non-game settings. The product—called MacroLife and marketed as “the game of benefits”— is essentially a portal, or “access point” as the company calls it, for a company’s benefits offerings. It was designed to bring together ACI’s suite of products, which include employee assistance, wellness and concierge programs, with the rest of an employer’s benefits offerings through a website with a single sign-on. 

Employers can also use MacroLife and its game theory to drive employee engagement on benefits utilization and corporate initiatives such as 401(k) education, health reimbursement arrangement completion and open enrollment. But ACI says the product can also help retention, recruitment, administration, absenteeism, productivity and job satisfaction. 

“Companies are currently paying for disconnected benefits that just sit on the shelf, not to mention undertaking the challenge of promoting multiple corporate initiatives,” says Dr. Ann Clark, CEO and founder of ACI. “MacroLife has put these pieces together, ultimately empowering employees to work smarter and live better. With MacroLife, ACI has re-imagined employee engagement, simplified benefits administration and improved return-on-investment.” 

According to company officials, one of the most heavily utilized gamification techniques is incentivization. For people who understand wellness programs, providing incentives to coerce behavior is nothing new. However, ACI extends the incentives throughout the product in order to reward behavior. Another part of game theory is the incorporation of tiers and levels, a concept familiar to video game players. MacroLife also sends concise messages to users in order to match the attention spans of the modern workforce. 

“The idea came from our constant search for the latest in technology and better ways to serve our customers. Getting people’s interest and then having them use the services was the goal initially,” says Erin Krehbiel, President, ACI Specialty Benefits. “It really falls into having a motivational strategy to get employees to understand what we have.” 

ACI, one of the largest EAP providers in the nation, says a number of different rewards can used to encourage engagement, including daily raffles, point redemptions, prizes and gift cards. Themed days such as “Flip Flop Friday” and “Wine Wednesday” are also popular with employees. However, time off from work is the single most popular reward. 

The idea is for employees to learn more about their benefits or participate in initiatives that are important to the company. “Intermittent and random rewards are the most effective way of teaching,” Clark says. “This is based on the psychology of learning .We reward people for changing habits—call it science or common sense—that’s how people learn.”

To further encourage employee engagement, MacroLife was designed for use on multiple devices—from smartphones to desktop machines and everything in between. “People are living in their phones and juggling many things,” Clark says. “Each activity and benefit service is available from your phone.” 

Looking ahead, ACI believes the gamification in MacroLife will help engage one particular group of workers—millennials. 

“It’s staggering to me is that in 2020, nearly half the workforce will be millennials,” Krehbiel says. “Millennials must be engaged and traditional retention and recruiting tactics are being challenged by this group, which will be in charge of the workforce. But employees in general are touching their phones 150 times a day. They are interacting with their benefits often times only with paper. The younger generation adopts faster.”