Gamification of Work

What is gamification of work?  Gamification of work is generally adopting “game” dynamics and applying it to the workplace to improve motivation and engagement.  Gamification for employees promotes desired behaviors, provides a clear path of achievement, and keeps employees motivated and engaged.  There are also additional benefits to gamifying work.  Gamifying work promotes positive feedback and reinforcement of certain behaviors through use of reward systems.  In this article, we will discuss how to gamify work to improve engagement and motivation.  We will also discuss how to avoid some negative outcomes of gamification as well.

Game Mechanics and Dynamics

For every game there are rules and rewards.  The rules and rewards are basically game mechanics, the make up the parameters of how to play and progress in the games and the rewards for achievements.  Game dynamics are items such as competition, achievement, progress, and collaboration, motivation, engagement, community, etc.  Game mechanics are the basically the driving force for game dynamics, where game dynamics are the interactions among “gamers” amidst the game mechanics.  Setting up the proper game mechanics for an activity will produce better game dynamics.

How to Gamify an Activity?

First it is important to find activities that would be best suited for gamification, but after it is important to decide the basic “game” mechanics.  For a real world activity lets consider Deloitte’s gamified onboarding process.  Deloitte has gamified their onboarding process by creating “missions” and levels for their online learning program.  The first mission is to watch a video explaining the processes and instructions explaining how to set up their profiles.  After completing “missions” employees receive a badge for their achievements with the ability to unlock other badges as well.  Deloitte has an online learning platform that uses a unique leader board that resets weekly, that allows employees to have a chance at being the top learner.  This leader board also corresponds to the employee’s level of achievement. 

Deloitte’s onboarding and online learning platform helps motivate and promote engagement amongst their workforce with use of badges and competition.  However, it is possible to gamify any activity by setting the game mechanics.  For example, you could gamify tasks needed to be completed for achieving your OKRs.  Assign points to completed tasks and weight them on difficulty.  Define levels by outlining milestones to these tasks, and level them up based on participation, task completions, unlocking badges etc.  Create challenges at each level for employees, like master a new skill, or provide a path towards a promotion of some kind.  Using levels to track progress of well-defined achievements needed for a promotion. Use leaderboards in the right way and promote and recognized the top performers.  To achieve the best results, use the points in a way that they can be exchanged for rewards beyond badges, as a spendable reward or perk in exchange for Amazon Cards, Starbuck’s Card, etc.  (You can reward beep points (coins) via beepHR.)  Gamification is a great way to both engage and motivate employees and to incentivize activities with rewards, however there are a few pitfalls to avoid. 

Gamification gone wrong

Disney Land made an attempt to gamify their laundry services at their resorts and it was meet with some backlash.  Disney monitored production speed and displayed it on monitors with efficiency rates of each worker.  This leaderboard showed all the workers in the area, where employees were either in the “green” or in the “red” based on how fast they were completing their tasks.  While some workers made it a competition, some workers could not compete at the speeds needed to be in the green, let alone on top of the leader boards. Workers coined the leaderboard as the “electronic whip”, as some employees were worried about being penalized for not being able to keep up with other workers.  This leadership board also become a bit of a wall of shame for under performing workers, some of which were pregnant or not in good health.  There was no reward attached to the performance or points awarded for performing better than others, rather it was used as negative feedback. 

To gamify work, it is important to use a system for positive feedback and reinforcement of behaviors, instead of making it a system of shaming.  Disney’s failed in their attempt at gamification (at the point of writing this, it is uncertain whether they still use this system).  It is important to adjust and not use leaderboards in a way that will discourage others from participating.  Readjusting leaderboards on a weekly schedule is better and based on employees of similar levels of achievement and skill. 

Gamification of work can be a great tool to help motivate and engage employees, but it is important to implement it in fair and balanced ways to promote participation.  For gamification to work it needs to be used as a positive feedback system. 

Final Thoughts on Gamification

There are key design elements that make gamification work well.  Progression bars or experience bars over a great way to measure progress, adding this with level increases help with motivating people with long and short-term goals.  Using a progression bar for many different types of tasks and using points (such as beep points) to measure overall progression will help to keep employees engaged.  Using frequent feedback is also another key element for gamification to work.  Having frequent positive feedback on progress will also help promote motivation and improve engagement.  One final thought on gamification of work is having an element of surprise or uncertainty involved in achievements.  Create achievements that have an element of chance associated with a reward.  For example, when an employee completes an achievement, provide a reward of varying value based on chance.  A simple way is to top people on the leaderboard each week, pull a random reward out of a hat, or when someone has a random achievement the get a “lottery” ticket of sorts to enter a drawing at the end of the month or quarter, etc.  Adding chance helps keep employees engaged and motivated to “play”.