The Beginner's Guide to the Gamification of Employee Incentives

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Gamification in the workplace is not a case of making work into a game, it’s about adding gaming elements to encourage additional behaviours or activities that are deemed valuable to the user and the company. It is not a quick fix or a revival tool for flagging products or sales teams. If you get it right, the possibilities are endless.

1. Gaming is a Serious Business

Gamification for the sake of it will add nothing to the business. The first step in introducing a gaming twist to your employee incentives is to understand what you’re trying to gamify - is it productivity? Is it relationship-building? Both of these are multi-faceted end results that require success in many granular elements. It’s these elements that you need to think about when adopting gamification to drive any end result. In any ‘game’ there are steps that have to be taken in order to win. Those are the pieces that are gamified.

Top Tip: Gamification reinforces the value of certain behaviours. Make sure those behaviours directly benefit the player and the business.

2. Analyse Everything

The most successful games are busy in the background, with algorithms and calculations, tracking and measurement. The gamer doesn’t see this, but relies upon it heavily to measure their progress and where they need to improve to ‘up their game’. The same principle applies with the gamification of employee incentives. The whole point is to improve the areas identified at the start of the process. Without continual tracking, employees (players) will soon lose interest or stray off course. Technology exists to track digital elements that have been completed… but what about the offline successes? The decision whether to include offline tracking is entirely up to you.

Top Tip: As well as recording an offline behaviour, it might be worth allowing users to rate it. For example, where a peer is providing evidence of a colleague mentoring them.

3. Don’t Let the Gamers Game the Game

Whether intentional or not, a game can bring out some dubious behaviour in the most innocent of employees. If employees are to record all their achievements themselves, could they end up finding shortcuts? For instance, recording behaviours or achievements multiple times to score more points? Or simply inputting incorrect data to get ahead? Testing the platform before implementation might highlight where this might happen before you launch. However, it is important to continually analyse and monitor what is happening in the results. This is when peer recognition technology can come into its own - tracking each other's successes and adding corroboration to achievements.

Top Tip: Set limits on ‘easy wins’ otherwise you will have people obsessing over scoring points on one behaviour and missing the point of the game as an entirety.

4. Are Your Players Likely To Take Part?

Dr. Michael Wu (PhD) suggests using the Fogg Behaviour model to decide the underlying behavioural factors necessary to engage.

Graph showing the Fogg behaviour model


1. Are they likely to have the motivation to take part

2. Are they able to carry out the tasks and do they have the resources needed to complete them?

3. Are there triggers to prompt them to take action?

Let’s start with motivation - this is more often than not the rewards that are up for grabs. But it also applies to the boredom factor. This is where triggers come in. Triggers are the prompts to act. A natural progression within the game - unlocking new levels for instance - staves off boredom.

Ability is something you will need to carefully think through - motivation will quickly wane if players are unable to complete tasks. Understanding how to work the platform that the game is housed on is key; knowing what’s expected of them, where to score points, when a level is near to completion. How and when prizes are awarded, as well as how they are announced. Frequent communication will bolster engagement.

5. Timing is Everything

If you’ve carefully crafted a natural progression in the form of a game, setting a time limit on elements will not only keep things fresh, but are intended to show that those behaviours that have been ‘unlocked’ are complete and should be a natural part of an employee’s working methods now. Of course, some behaviours take more time to complete or build up, such as reputation. Establishing the timescale of each behaviour and the correct feedback tool is vital. So, for something more long-term such as reputation you might opt for a leaderboard system, with trophies or badges along the way to keep players engaged. For something more immediate, points and rewards are more appropriate.

Top Tip: Setting out the game as a ‘ladder’ can help you identify the steps of the game, the timescales involved and where you can employ different feedback mechanisms suitable for the behaviour concerned.

6. Co-Op Play Encourages Long Term Learnings

Whatever platform you adopt to record game progress on, anything that requires a longer term involvement - for example, Leaderboards - needs a community to be built. Sharing data, scores and progress encourages engagement and frequent revisits to the platform - providing you with the opportunity to communicate when players are motivated (reminding them of their own headway while they’re having a quick look at others’ scores).

Top Tip: Don’t underestimate the power of comparison, competition and status that can be achieved through gaming - this is only realised through community-based platforms. On the flipside, if collaboration is one of the behaviours you are trying to instil, the community component allows groups, teams to track their progress and/or overall company performance.

7. Let Them Play

Little and often works so well with gaming. Not everyone will be engaged at the same time and at the same level. Your MVPs (most valuable players) will progress quickly, whereas others may simply ‘not get it’. Interaction, therefore, should be made as varied as possible.

Top Tip: Those less likely to be engaged with the game should be offered quick, frequent wins (and be reminded of them and rewarded for them). You won’t be able to win everyone over with this technique, but it will certainly help engage a deeper core audience.

8. Gaming Won’t Fix Everything

Yes, you will see a spike in engagement - it’s a novel way of presenting something and people will be naturally interested in how to play and what might happen. Curiosity will give way to tedium and realisation that the product or service or behaviour that you’re trying to revive just won’t work. It didn’t work pre-gamification and it won’t work after. Fix the product/service before gamification. Or face the backlash!

Top Tip: Gaming is an enhancement of the core elements of your business - behaviours that you know your employees have but aren’t applying, for instance.

Interested in engaging your employees with Gamification? Check out Encore by Ovation