What is Gamification?

gamificationIt’s not in the dictionary yet, but the word “gamification” may soon well be one of the newest and most relevant additions. The word itself and, more importantly, its concepts have been embraced by the business world across a wide variety of applications.

Long recognized as a way to engage customers and encourage sales activities, major corporations have taken a second look and are now also using it to influence favorable employee behaviors. Gamification has seen a rise in every company department from training to sales to human resources and is having a significant effect on reducing both actual administrative and support costs as well as those “indefinable” expenditures known as soft costs.

The Guiding Principle

Games are certainly fun as a diversionary activity and are enjoyed by almost every one of every age. Similarly, to some degree, the majority of people like to play games in social settings and, to a larger extent, almost everybody likes to “keep score” in some manner or another. These two facts are the underlying basis of gamification and its success.

Gamification relies on the simple fact that people are naturally competitive. Most certainly men, but also women and children, have an innate need to keep track of their achievements and their relative worth as compared to their peers. This need manifests itself in many ways but an analysis of the psychology involved is far beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the fact that the behavior of people can be influenced by certain game-related elements is of utmost importance.

Unexpected Utility of Gamification

All gamification efforts revolve around distributing points, credits or some other arbitrary recognition that can ultimately be transformed into real benefits. The savvy observer may note that the same benefits could be bestowed without the rigmarole that accompanies gamification.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the game aspect is intrinsic to the success of the associated program. Somewhat amazingly, employee adherence to a beneficial program is substantially less when there is no gamification present. In short, to bastardize an old expression, “No Game, No Gain.”


Once it is recognized that people can be, albeit unwittingly, influenced to engage in certain behaviors because of game-related activities, it is a simple matter to include these types of activities in a broad variety of work-related functions.

For instance, many companies employ gamified incentives to encourage healthy practices by their employees. An employee will take an initial survey about their eating habits, weight, physical activity, and whether they smoke or drink. The gamification process can next set goals for the employee to meet to attain a certain number of points.

The process is normally honor-based with the employee simply reporting whether they have achieved the goal or not. Most systems deal with this problem by restricting access and the accumulation of points over a reasonable amount of time. For example, an employee cannot set a goal of losing 15 lbs. on one day and then simply state that they have met the complete goal on the next. Instead, a series of surveys would have to be completed over the course of four to six weeks to qualify. The surveys offer another opportunity for the company to introduce further health inducing tips to further the overall process.

As can be seen from this example, the implementation of gamification in the benefits process need not be difficult. The most difficult part is the gathering from reputable sources of the information that will indeed improve the overall health of the employees. Once that is established, it is a simple matter to include the initial surveys and monitoring process in an HRIS. The entire process can be automated and a simple check by the HR manager for accuracy can be made before the bonuses are awarded.

The Multiple Benefits of Gamification

The benefits are two-fold in that they promote greater productivity from the employee and also lessen many associated costs for the company. In the example above, the gamification process of encouraging healthy habits and activities by employees benefits the company in multiple ways.

First, healthy employees use less healthcare services. This lessening of demand can lead to a lowering of benefit costs in the following year. In addition, less sick days means greater productivity. Even if the employee must be given compensatory time, the company work schedule is not disrupted as much by a last minute no-show.

Furthermore, healthy employees are happy employees and exhibit a significantly greater morale and attitude towards work. This attitude manifests itself in lowered soft costs for a company as there are less strained relationships between peers and with management. The likelihood of injury and harassment cases are lessened and customer service is improved.

Other HR Opportunities

Self-paced training works well in conjunction with gamification. Companies are always looking for “self-starters” and this type of person is usually competitive, excels at the game playing process and gamification makes them readily identifiable. Similarly, the sales team already uses a wide range of SPIFFs and other bonuses that have shown their effectiveness. While these incentives are not technically gamification, they do prove the concept. In short, with sufficient preparation and the proper support every department can benefit from gamification.


About the Author

Carolyn Sokol writes about issues that may affect small businesses such as human resources, hr management software, HR outsourcing and HRIS programs. She is the owner of compareHRIS.com as well as PEOcompare.com, both of which help match businesses to the right HR or payroll service provider for their particular needs.