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Play to Grow: Gamifying growth in payroll platforms usage

Gamification isn’t a new tactic in SaaS platforms, but can it be utilised in payroll platforms to increase engagement and growth of a platform?

Beam’s guide to gamification

Gamification has become a go-to strategy for SaaS platforms and financial software to level up user engagement. Software developers are infusing subtle hints of gamification theory into their creations, aiming to captivate users on a deeper level. The idea is simple but powerful: incorporating game-like elements in software that trigger the rewards centre in our brains. Who doesn’t enjoy a little reward while handling online banking, right? From progress bars to milestone symbols and even playful loading screens, these gamification tactics bring mental stimulation and foster connection between users and platforms. It’s a trend embraced by online banking, investment trading, and even leading SaaS platforms like Salesforce. Now, the question is, what are the mechanics that payroll platforms are using, or could use, to improve experiences? Let’s find out!

Gamification: Practical psychology for apps

An argument could be made that gamification theory is as old as competition itself. Indeed, wherever there are competition and games there is the potential for gamification. It’s not suggested that gamification goes as far back as the ancient Romans, although back then the ancient Olympics did feature some traits of game mechanics like symbolic rewards and non-financial incentives. What the Romans lacked was access to transformative digital technology like smartphones and cloud-based software, a key component of modern-day gamification principles. Using game mechanics for software started at the beginning of the 2000’s in the early days of social media platforms and phone applications. One of the first to deploy gamification into commercial practice was Foursquare, who provided users with badges for checking into venues regularly. Foursquare found its niche and became a hit, resulting in the company’s value increase from 50 million USD to 600 million USD in the space of one year¹.

Gamification and its theories are a hot topic within software development circles. Moving from theory to practical use for payroll software is another discussion altogether. Some elements of gamification have started to find their way into payroll software with more to come in the future.

Self-determined users

Self-determination is a prevalent concept in digital education and open-source platforms like GitHub. It essentially revolves around three fundamental needs – competence, relatedness, and autonomy. When it comes to self-determination, games like Minecraft can be seen as the standard. Minecraft offers a simple starting point, enabling players to engage with each other in vast online communities without barriers. While employers may not necessarily require the most entertaining way to handle payroll, some software developers are using self determination to decrease the competency requirements needed to navigate through legislation and compliance as a means of effectively using a payroll platform.

Drawing a comparison to Minecraft, payroll platforms can adopt a similar approach. By using compliance and legislation as the underlying rules of the platform, users can be guided through the system. Minecraft borrows rules from physics and chemistry to create the boundaries of the game, but players don’t need to be experts in these areas to play. The game creates a world based on these fundamental and unchangeable rules to allow players to interact without needing to fully understand them. Similarly, a payroll platform could leverage legislations on super as a framework so users will not have to constantly stay updated on the legislation itself.

Tl;dr: Self Determination is possible within payroll platforms. Legislative and compliance requirements can be built into the environment with users given simple and easy process to reduce competency barriers.

Conditioned to win

The cult game Pong from the 1970s employed simple mechanics designed to condition players to win or spend all their quarters in the process. This approach, known as operant conditioning, involves providing negative and positive reinforcement based on task completion or failure. It’s a commonly used gamification mechanic in software, it’s distinctly different from the theory of Pavlov and his dog, also known as classical conditioning. With operant conditioning, behaviours are shaped through consequences, offering rewards for correct actions and negative feedback for mistakes. So in this instance, employers can be conditioned to use their payroll platform more effectively to increase engagement levels and reduce the need for customer service support.

Similar conditioning techniques can be seen in banking applications that prompt users to save more by offering rewards for reaching savings goals while providing negative reinforcement when goals are not met. A similar technique could have a positive effect on a payroll platform. Intangible rewards and prompts could drive better platform use and engagement. Instant feedback on errors could discourage future mistakes, while prompts and celebratory messages could encourage more frequent use.

Tl;dr: Payroll software could condition users to engage the platform more frequently by providing positive reinforcement when tasks are completed on time or giving instant feedback when something is incorrect.

Understanding flow

The phrase “going with the flow” is rarely associated with payroll software in the context of employers. In an industry that’s heavily regulated and legislated as payroll and super payments, it is important for employers to follow the correct processes to remain compliant. However, the user experience can be enhanced by improving the flow of employers’ interactions, while still remaining compliant. The objective is to transition from conscious processing to subconscious processing without interrupting the user’s workflow². In simpler terms, employers should be given a mental break but promptly reengaged before their attention shifts elsewhere. Loading screens present an opportunity to allow this mental transition. Interactive loading screens offer several opportunities, such as sharing fun facts, providing answers to frequently asked questions or even including playable games. If the ultimate goal is to keep employers mentally engaged throughout the entire payroll process, engaging the flow state is an opportunity to do this.

Tl;dr: Keeping employers engaged in the task of paying payroll could be improved by providing short mental breaks that still contain some basic mental stimulation.

What you do, I can do better

Social learning theory has emerged as a significant aspect of modern software communities in the past decade. These digital tribes of developers and creators interact and exchange ideas on message boards and online community spaces worldwide. Recent research suggests that social learning is particularly effective among Generation Z (1997 – 2012), who will soon take charge of payroll management³. Therefore, it’s essential to consider this approach. Social learning entails users sharing, observing, and imitating practices to enhance outcomes, a method gaining popularity in software development.

Salesforce, the global SaaS organisation, has established a thriving community called Trailblazers, dedicated to the growth and improvement of its users. This online community encourages learning, mutual support, and engagement on all things Salesforce. It also serves as a platform for accreditation and certification. Replicating such a community presents challenges for payroll communities since employers are unlikely to share confidential payroll practices. However, it’s worth noting that social learning isn’t limited to employers. Payroll specialists and accountants can be better engaged by providing a space to share their accreditation experiences with payroll software.

Tl;dr: Employers may not be the target of social learning, but providing a place for specialists and accountants to share accreditation and advice might be beneficial for growing payroll platforms footprint.

For further reading on the value of gamification in fintech: Pay-to-pay Experience: Fintech Gamification Practices to level up your UX

Practicality in a changing legislative environment

Gamification has more to offer than the four discussed theories; rewards, personalisation and increases in difficulty are just some alternative mechanics that could be utilised. The barrier for the payroll industry isn’t the ability of the software, but complexities of legislation. Payroll and super payments from employers must remain compliant, the aim of gamification should be to simplify and improve processes, not find shortcuts through legislation or compliance. Paying employees doesn’t have to be a game or competition, but in a constantly evolving industry like payroll and superannuation, it’s a great opportunity to improve the usability of payroll platforms.

Could Gamification be a path to the future?

Payday Super, announced 2 May 2023, is an example of how quickly the super industry can change. Planned for 2026, Payday Super will require employers to make super contributions for employees at the same time as their salary, instead of quarterly. This change has the potential to increase expectations on payroll platforms from employers. Improving user experience, interactivity and flow state for payroll platforms could be on the priority list to improve how employers will navigate platforms when Payday Super is implemented.

Read more about Payday Super in a special Beam investigative article: The Future of Super: Payday Super

Beam leads the way

Gamification is already ingrained in SaaS and fintech, the practical application could transform platforms and how they’re used. These gaming tactics are employed in places often not recognised, even this article has gamification theories included in it. Throughout this article Tl;dr (too long, didn’t read) are tactically placed for easier scanning of important sections, encouraging readers to remain engaged when the content seems too long – a perfect example of the flow theory. The article also will be shared on LinkedIn, where people can discuss, share, earn badges and rewards while engaging with peers on social platforms. These highlight the theories of social learning, operant conditioning and self-determination.

Beam is looking ahead at how to improve paying super. Our software partners are already connecting the dots with gamification and improved experiences. Super Fund Onboarding (SFO) is also available for employers, something Beam created to simplify super for employers. As the industry changes and adapts to evolving digital environments, Beam will continue to look forward and set the trend to help make super simple for everyone.

¹Foursquare value measured in the 2010 – 2011 financial period
²Theory of Flow State theorised by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, 2000
³From ‘Reflecting on Social Learning Tools to Enhance the Teaching-Learning Experience of Generation Z Learners’, 2021