Gamification Isn’t Playing Games; It’s Making Work More Fun and Workers More Engaged

Employee engagement can often be one of the more difficult metrics that human resource leaders are tasked with growing in their day-to-day work. While it can be one of the more crucial elements of workplace culture, HR leaders struggle to find new ways to keep employees engaged.

The term gamification can often be misunderstood. Some people like the word, while for others it brings more negative connotations, but there is no denying the success of the gaming sector. Gamification strategies have developed some hugely successful campaigns to attract users from a marketing standpoint and some of these can be adopted to make the digital workplace more compelling, more enjoyable, more effective and more fun.

Gamification can be many things

While certain gamification tactics are not applicable to every environment to engage employees, there are opportunities for HR leaders to consider testing the strategy at their organization. Gamification can be broadly interpreted but it doesn’t have to involve money or even competition and it can start at a basic level. At the core, the goal of gamification is to take more tactical, or boring, tasks and make them more exciting for employees.

Many digital workplaces now use collaboration tools like Trello, where the game is to move the work that has been assigned to you to the completed stack. Other aspects of the attractive online environment that games create, which can be appropriately adapted to the digital workplace could be: assigning different colored headers to different types of task, dragging and dropping the names of staff who are working on these or having alerts which flash up to mark approaching deadlines.

All these things can make utilizing collaboration tools more satisfying, and the positive reinforcement that this creates means that staff will return to them frequently and check the progress of their projects.

Another example may be in utilizing online scheduling tools for organizing staff in a retail environment. A smart scheduling tool may give a star rating to a well-written schedule, highlighting the best allocation of available resources against predicted demand. That can build staff confidence and encourage them to aim to repeat the process and get the highest rating every time. This is driving the kind of behavior the company wants and it is part of coaching staff to achieve highly.

While gamification can fit into several different work environments, there are places where it is appropriate to use these techniques and places where it is not. For example, diagnosing a serious illness from radiograms should not be treated like matching colored jellybeans on Candy Crush.

Is gamification right for you?

Making the digital workplace as satisfying to work in as possible is a goal most HR leaders have, but they must ask questions about how they are using these techniques, what is the goal, what is the audience, and how this approach can be part of a long-term strategy.

Competition may sometimes be helpful in some industries, but not all. The world of sales has utilized some more competitive aspects of gamification, such as leaderboards. Salespeople tend to be used to a bonus and commission driven culture, so these techniques may work for them. For others, individual competition may feel off-putting, but a team approach may be acceptable.

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An example might be around time and expense submission in a consulting firm. Departments can compete over getting their month-end information completed on time enabling bills to be sent to clients more quickly.

To launch a successful gamification strategy, HR leaders need to take the time to develop a long-term plan. Testing one-off games with no set goals or intentions of gathering insight, or measuring increased engagement won’t drive the engagement you want. Investing time is key.

Gamification on a tight budget

To avoid allocating funds, imagination can be used to introduce a game element to eliminate additional costs. For example, I’ve seen gamification built around reducing carbon footprint around a company conference – who can get to the event with the least carbon footprint? Not only was it fun with people coming up with innovative ways to do this, but it also reduced the costs for the company.

Training is another area where this approach can be useful – people often don’t use up their training budgets as everyone is too busy. A game element can drive up the enjoyment factor and thus get people to engage while developing the skills the company needs.

While gamification is not a new technique, its role in increasing employee engagement has been more topical as businesses look for new ways to drive growth. At a basic level, gamification can make a more attractive and stimulating place to work.

Mark Robinson is a co-founder of Kimble Applications. 

Mark has over 30 years’ experience in the IT industry and is a serial entrepreneur. He started his career in management consulting before working for Oracle Corporation where he was able to witness first-hand their rise from start-up to software giant.

He started his first IT consultancy company, Fulcrum Solutions, in 1997 with no external investment, and in just under 3 years it had reached 200 staff with offices in Edinburgh, Manchester, London and New York. It was acquired by Whittman Hart for cash and stock valued at $35m in November 1999.

Following the successful sale of Fulcrum, he co-founded IT consultancy Edenbrook, this time with external investment. At the time of its acquisition in 2009 by Hitachi, Edenbrook had reached over 400 people based in the UK and India.

In Kimble, Mark is responsible for evaangelizing and marketing the Kimble solution.

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