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Updated Oct 24, 2023

Gamifying Your Workforce: How to Make Employee Engagement Fun

Gamification can boost employee morale and increase retention. Here's how to gamify your workplace.

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Nicole Fallon, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
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Gamification is a popular approach to making customer experiences more engaging and fun, and now it’s coming to the workforce as well. As senior management determines whether their workforce is more productive working remotely or at the office, managers are realizing that internal gamification can promote loyalty, productivity and engagement among employees.

By adding elements of games to the standard employee/manager dynamic, businesses have found that employees are more likely to stick around, especially in a remote setting. Here’s how you can put gamification to work for your employees.

What is gamification?

graphic of colleagues playing a big game of Jenga

Gamification is the process of adding elements of games to non-game activities, such as working or studying. In the workplace, gamification can encourage employee engagement, gratification and retention. This is especially important for companies with a remote workforce that are concerned about providing a good employee experience.

“Gamification … incorporates training into an environment that is fun and mirrors other games in social media,” said Paul Gordon, senior vice president of sales at Rymax Marketing Services. “By building a game into training that is social … and educational, it makes the company look progressive and resonates with today’s employee base.”

TipTip
Identify activities that have low employee buy-in or engagement, such as professional development programs, and gamify them to increase participation rates.

Benefits of gamification

The benefits of gamification for any workplace can be tremendous, especially if incorporated in workforce training. Adding gamification to employee onboarding and introductory training can reduce employee turnover and build a workforce that is more engaged. Gamification could be especially useful for a remote workforce, where employees are distributed across multiple locations and may not get much face time with one another.

It makes learning fun and engaging.

Gamification tactics, such as interactive visuals and infographics, can help people retain up to three times as much information as they would otherwise. Gamification boosts an individual’s willingness to study and learn in a more enjoyable and interactive way. A major hurdle of learning is getting personally interested in the content. Gamification provides pacing that allows students to process information in a comfortable way.

It decreases employee stress.

graphic of a woman in a zen pose

Gamification makes employees happier and more productive at work. Stress builds negative work environments, creates an unsatisfied workforce and increases job dissatisfaction. Employee performance increases as a workforce feels less stressed and more relaxed. Applying gamification to a work environment can effectively improve employee outcomes.

It appeals to a younger workforce.

Gamification is especially effective when onboarding a digitally native workforce. Younger generations have different motivational and behavioral patterns and require a set of techniques that better align their style of learning and skill development with business goals. Gamified onboarding is a natural, fun and effective alternative for a changing workforce. [Learn more ways to attract and engage millennials and Gen Z employees.]

Did You Know?Did you know
Gamification is perfect for companies that want to encourage additional learning, improve employee morale and productivity, and cater to a younger workforce.

Gamification statistics

The global gamification market grew from $14.87 billion to $18.63 billion over the last year, according to the Gamification Global Market Report 2023 from The Business Research Company. By 2025, the market size is expected to have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.4 percent, rising to $30.7 billion, according to MarketsandMarkets. This is largely because of its positive impact on employee engagement and ROI. In fact, almost 90 percent of employees feel that gamification increases their productivity in the workplace, according to TalentLMS.

Business owners attempting to retain workers and improve company culture should consider implementing gamification into their bottom line. Employees will feel more motivated and incentivized to do their best work and take pride in their performance. Additionally, due to the spike in gamification, companies must adopt this growing trend to remain competitive. [Read related article: Hiring and Retention Has Never Been More Difficult]

Best practices for internal gamification

The idea behind gamification is to introduce a competitive element to employees’ tasks, using public recognition and rewards to give them a greater incentive to meet personal and company goals. As with marketing gamification, these systems typically include something earned – such as points or badges – in exchange for prizes that are tangible (a gift card, consumer product or a free lunch) or intangible (an extra day off, a charitable donation or an all-expenses-paid trip).

These tips can help you create a successful internal gamification program.

Define and measure your processes.

If people don’t know what they’re working toward or what they need to do to get there, your gamification attempts will fall flat. Steve Sims, vice president of product at ON24, noted that gamification should always start with business goals and how they’re going to be measured. Then, you need to understand the groups of employees you’re working with and what you want to motivate them to do. [Read related article: How to Set Achievable Business Goals]

“We advocate for ongoing analytics, both to measure progress toward goals and to provide information to evolve the solution going forward,” Sims said. “Anything can get stale, so the gamification solution needs to keep evolving.”

“Having a great visual representation of employee standings and clear, consistent KPIs will help encourage teams to reach the top spot,” added Mick Hollison, former president of Cloudera.

Provide quick feedback.

graphic of two colleagues talking

An efficient feedback loop will help your program succeed. Frequent and immediate feedback via scorecards or benchmarks toward a goal will allow employees to adjust their performance accordingly.

“Every sports team and video game uses immediate feedback to help players improve their performance,” Hollison said. “Organizations using gamification techniques should similarly leverage real-time feedback to drive individual and team success.”

Get people invested.

Charlene Li, chief research officer at PA Consulting, told us that gamification works only if staff members really care about what they’re doing and why.

“There’s a whole system of value attached to gamification that needs to be thought through,” she said. “There [needs to be] a social aspect – badges need to be tied to development and recognition [by] someone in authority or your peers. The games and goals have to be meaningful; otherwise, you feel like a pawn on the chessboard.”

Gordon emphasized that, like all aspects of company culture, engagement is not one-size-fits-all, so gamification can’t be, either. Talk to your employees about what motivates them and what rewards they might want before you implement a gamified system.

Why does gamification work?

Gamification works in employee training and engagement for one simple reason: Playing games is one of the most natural ways for people to learn.

“Children like to play games as a way to challenge themselves and learn,” Li said. “Gamification is an issue of, how do you get someone’s attention fully focused on a task? How do we put elements of play back into learning so we pay attention more? People do realize that training is important, but [gamification] makes it fun and interesting.”

Aaren Terrett, former director of sales operations at O2E Brands, said that gamification worked for his millennial-heavy staff because it tapped into their desire for instant gratification.

“The introduction of gamification into our sales center increased productivity, customer conversion rates and staff morale,” Terrett said. “We created contests with grand prizes such as Apple products and paid time off to encourage agents to reach targets.”

Similarly, Gordon said that Rymax arranged “The Greatest Race”-type events in key cities, where employees teamed up to visit specific landmarks, obtained clues and company information at each site, and tried to beat competitors to the finish to win brand-name products.

Activities like this create tremendous team building, an increased awareness of the company’s objectives and, most importantly, an event that is memorable and offers rewards that have residual trophy value, Gordon said.

FYIDid you know
Gamification is common in our daily lives, seen with learning applications like Duolingo and social media platforms where users earn badges for engaging with others’ content. This familiarity and popularity makes gamification a good team-building strategy.

A word of caution

graphic of people surrounding a question mark in a circle

Gamification is effective when it’s done well, but it can backfire if applied in the wrong ways. It’s important to create a healthy sense of competition, but not so much competition that your employees become demotivated. Sims reminds employers that people learn at different paces, and a competition can be disheartening to those who don’t advance as quickly.

Li agreed, saying that tactics like leaderboards may end up discouraging people from participating if it rewards only one leader.

“Leaderboards are good in … a group with a strong bond, but you have to show the top 20, not the top one,” she said. “[In that situation], if you’re not the leader [and] you’re not gaining something, you don’t care, and that doesn’t help.”

Another problem to watch out for is employees becoming complacent with your gamification program and falling into a steady, comfortable routine.

“We’ve learned that it’s important to occasionally introduce new internal contests and real-world rewards to reignite excitement and spike employee motivation,” Hollison said. “Otherwise, you may risk a decline in employee engagement and overall performance.” [Get some ideas for employee engagement that work for your team.]

Sims said you should also be careful when adding external rewards like gift cards and products as incentives. While these things may be nice to incorporate as an occasional perk or contest prize, using them as your sole incentives will send the wrong signal about why people should be motivated to do a good job.

“Employees aren’t training in order to earn a gift certificate; they’re training so they can add professional skills for long-term advancement,” Sims said. “True business gamification focuses on intrinsic rewards and benefits. It helps employees along the journey to greater success for the long term.”

Gamifying your workforce and making engagement fun

For a manager with a remote workforce, gamification is a popular approach that can make engagement fun for the employees. Adding game elements to standard activities in the workplace can lead to an increase in productivity, especially when incorporating immediate feedback and using public recognition and rewards to further incentives for a changing workforce. However, failure to establish a healthy sense of competition might demotivate a younger workforce.

Sammi Caramela and Tejas Vemparala contributed to this article. ​​Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article

author image
Nicole Fallon, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
Nicole Fallon is a small business owner with nearly a decade of experience overseeing day-to-day business operations. She and her co-founder self-funded their company and now lead a team of employees across multiple disciplines. Fallon's first-hand experience as an entrepreneur running a staffed business has given her unique insight into startup culture, budgeting, employer-employee relationships, sales and marketing, and project management. Fallon's business expertise is evident in her work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where she analyzes small business trends. Her writing has been published in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Newsweek, and she enjoys collaborating with B2B and SaaS companies.
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