What Is Gamification for Employee Engagement?

6 minutes read

Let the games begin.

Gamification—the act of making a corporate process feel more like a game—is one of the hottest business trends around. 

In fact, the gamification market is projected to grow almost tenfold from $7.8 billion in 2019 to $76.3 billion by 2030. While gamification has corporatewide applications, human resources is leading the charge. That’s because gamification may increase employee engagement—and that would be a game changer in its own right. 

Just 32% of employees say that they’re engaged at work, according to the latest Gallup survey. Worse, 17% report that they’re actively disengaged. That’s alarming, considering that engaged employees are more productive, learn skills quicker and contribute to a more positive culture. 

No wonder the HR universe is looking for ways to incorporate gamification more heavily into its recruiting, onboarding and training programs. After all, humans—and many animals—are hardwired to play, alone and together. Babies and children learn and develop through play. It’s no wonder why many organizations want to leverage that basic drive to better engage their workforces.  

What Gamification Looks Like

Gamified employee engagement techniques run the gamut from online games and quizzes—say, in the course of training—to point systems that reward employees for performing certain actions, like achieving perfect attendance or referring a friend for a job. 

While many gamification initiatives are geared to the tech industry and managerial-level employees, companies are also developing gamification campaigns geared to hourly workers. 

For example, in order to improve productivity in its fulfillment centers, Amazon launched FC Games—a series of arcade-style minigames. The only way employees can advance through the games is by completing certain real-world warehouse tasks. Participating employees—and it’s completely voluntary—earn points as they go, which they can then trade in for Amazon-branded merchandise. 

Is gamification really effective? It’s hard to measure, and of course, results vary. However, in one survey, 83% of workers who received gamified training said it left them motivated, while 61% of workers in the nongamified control group said they found training boring. As more employers jump on the bandwagon, we’re bound to see how this all plays out. 

The Psychology of Gamification  

So why does gamification work? One theory is that it’s not the points and the prizes that make it effective, but the way it taps into our psychological need to achieve something—and to be recognized and rewarded for that achievement.  

Perhaps it’s the same drive that has two-thirds of Americans playing video games—often returning to the same game, day after day, to advance to the next level. It’s fun, it’s absorbing and, in some indefinable way, it’s oddly rewarding. 

That said, gamification work processes can backfire if they’re poorly designed. For example, when the challenges are so great that the majority of workers can’t “win” or, when the activities leave them feeling anxious and discouraged, the experience will alienate them instead of engage them. Like everything else in the HR world, gamification requires careful forethought.

That said, gamification can be another potentially powerful tool in your HR toolbox, like your workforce policies, employee handbook and your HCM software. In every case, it comes down to knowing your objectives and challenges, understanding your workforce—and making choices that make the most sense for your organization.   

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