The Effects of Gamification on Employee Performance

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Table of contents

  1. Gamification
  2. Employee Engagement and Gamification
  3. Limitations


Gamification has been around for many years. Around early 1900s companies offered free gifts with multiple purchases. But gamification gained the name near the start of 2000, around 2010. It’s been a growing part of modern business. In 2013 gamification was described as the “hottest business buzz-word” (McCormick, 2013). “It’s not just a buzzword; the gamification market is forecast to be worth $5.5 billion annually by 2018, according to Markets and Markets”. Gamification is used in diverse contexts such as retail, health and wellbeing, education. SAP used games for educating its employees on sustainability, Unilever uses it for training, Hays for hiring recruiters and Khan for online education. Organisations can see the outcomes like performance, employee engagement and retention, according to (Aberdeen, 2013).

According to the analysts, gamification will be used in 25 percent of redesigned business processes by 2015 (Burke B., 2012) will grow to more than a $2.8 billion business by 2016, and will have 70 percent of Global 2000 businesses managing at least one “gamified” application or system by 2014 (Inc, 2011). The main goal of gamification is to increase the user’s engagement by using game like features like scoreboards, personalized fast feedback (Flatla, 2011)making the employees feel more ownership and purpose when engaging with tasks (Pavlus, 2010). Gamification is using game elements in the activities that are supposed to raise motivation, but for that to happen, we need to pay attention to the integration of tasks and exercises within the game design (Luis von Ahn, 2008). It also is a way to socially interact with other participants and they naturally respond in social ways and follow social rules like take turn (Fogg, 2002). Routine activities tend to bore employees hence activities combined with games can motivate people effectively (Chrons, 2011). Gamification is now used in education too. According to Gartner Group, gamification will be a key trend that very CIO, IT planner and enterprise architect must be aware of as it relates to business (Group, 2011). It has already been added to Gartner Hype Cycle for 2011 (Group, 2011).

Employee Engagement and Gamification

Employee engagement helps an organisation gain competitive advantage over others. People is one thing that a competitor cannot replicate and is considered as a treasured asset if they are manage and engaged correctly. As per (Baumruk, 2004)employee engagement is the most powerful aspect to measure a company’s vigour. In 1990 (Kahn W. A.) introduced the concept of employee engagement, giving his definition quoted in the introduction, namely, “the harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances”. There are 3 psychological conditions for an employee to be engaged: meaningfulness (work elements), safety (social elements, including management style, process, and organisational norms) and availability (individual distractions).

Employee engagement brings forth numerous advantages for the firm. Employee engagement is a tool which could be deployed in the organization so that the talent is appropriately deployed and harnessed effectively. It helps in building employee commitment and helps employees perform better in their roles. It leads to focused efforts and better outcomes. It translates into greater innovation, commitment to organisation, positive energy and higher productivity. It also leads to lower attrition levels and absenteeism. Engaged employees love their jobs, believe their employer, company goals and the manner in which they conduct their business (, 2012). They exhibit high levels of passion and creativity and they believe they create value and management. Different people have different needs and desires and the satisfaction level of the motivational factors keeps changing. Therefore it is a challenge for all the HR professionals today to understand their employees as groups and accordingly incorporate the motivational factors as a set or group of rewards for different groups of employees (Singh, 2012). Modern generation of workers are more focused on the diverse use of their knowledge, skills, creativity and are looking for freedom and independence at work which makes gamification as relevant as ever. (Kamasheva, 2015)

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Defines employee engagement as employees’ “involvement with, commitment to and satisfaction with work.”Accenture’s quiz based “Path to Success” Facebook app tested the aptitude of the users while keeping them engaged in an interesting gameplay. Participants had to roll the dice to land on a tile and they were faced with a trivia question and rewarded for each correct answer while they climbed up the corporate ladder. This helped the company engage their employees and subsequently build a pipeline of talent with the help of the data collected through this game. (Manchanda, 2014) In a report by Gallup, it was found that over 70 percent of employees are disengaged. This explains the importance inventing innovative engagement strategies (Bradt, 2013).

Moreover, studies have shown that the millennials represent the least engaged workforce (almost two-thirds) who need to be taken care of in order to thrive in a highly competitive economy (Pyle, 2015). To engage the disengaged employees’ heads, hearts and hands, organisations must adopt these ten C’s of employee engagement: Connect, Career, Clarity, Convey, Congratulate, Contribute, Control, Collaborate, Credibility and Confidence (Seijts, 2006). SAP, to motivate and engage its massive salesforce, implemented a gamified application “Roadwarrior” which enables the sales reps to compete against each other in a multiple choice type game to become leaders of their own expertise. (Pyle, 2015) Statistics show that 43% highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week as compared to 18% of employees with low engagement (Lyons, 2017). Thus, constant feedback and recognition is also one of the best ways to engage the disengaged employees. This can be successfully achieved through gamification. Telstra Australia has introduced an embedded social recognition system to radically improve its employee engagement levels. Here, social media and smart boards are used to recognise colleagues through a gaming smart board method which saw an increase in the engagement levels over time. In 2010, a Colorado restaurantimplemented a gamification-based employee program withthe goal of motivating waiters and waitresses to increasesales of specific menu items. Participating staff wereawarded chances to play online “random-point-yieldinggames when they sold a fresh-squeezed orange juice or a4-pack of cinnamon rolls”. Points were redeemable by stafffor a branded debit card. One case study estimated that the[restaurant] realized an ROI of 66.2 percent due to an increasein sales of the targeted menu items” (SUCCESS: Improving Sales in a Restaurant Environment, 2017)

Maintainingself-efficacy, identity and sense of worth and belongingnessis of vital importance. In this context, self-managedcompanies use games like DueProps which gives points and recognition for meeting goals. It is available for a reasonable price of $29 per month for20 users and is suitable for use in various small andmedium-sized organizations or selectively even within larger companies (Specialist, 2014). Gamification may provide ways to engage employees is ways not previously seen. “Games create an emotionally compelling context for the player and build on nostalgia, curiosity, visual appeal and employees’ interest. They connect with the player emotionally and are an invitation into a world that is to be learned” (CIPD, 2012 a). Utilising these concepts within the internal organisational environment may enhance engagement by appealing to the employees’ sense of fun (which can take various forms – e.g. see (Lazzaro, 2004)

A simple example of a game-like tool aimed at getting people to further engage in a concept is the use of the profile completeness tool on LinkedIn. Within an organisational business environment it might be about the application of game elements (e.g. points for cross-departmental project teams) to encourage team-working and collaboration assuming those are key business imperatives. Gamification may aid retention of employees through the encouragement of engagement in activity that the employee considers to be meaningful (at least at that particular time). According to (Burke B., 2014b) the key to sustainable gamification is to architect behaviour change “primarily with intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic rewards - that we are able to sustain momentum by ensuring that, as people engage in a game, the challenge matches the skill level and we are able to provide people with meaningful incentives”. From a psychological standpoint, engagement inan experience comprises the energy, involvement,and efficacy felt by the individual in the experience (Maslach, 1997) Employee engagement entails ‘harnessing’ employees to their jobs throughtheir involvement, satisfaction, and enthusiasm forwork (Kahn W., 1990). Engagement can have impactfulimplications for managers: it can be positively associated with organizational commitment and organizational citizenship, but also negatively associatedwith intentions to quit (Saks, 2006). Moreover, increased employee engagement has been linked toincreased customer satisfaction (Harter, 2002), which is why it is not surprising that it is in the interest of managers to improve internal behavioral attributes. However, achieving high employee engagement is not easy.

(Freshdesk.) claims that by gamifying the everyday work of helpdesk employees, who are often demotivated and over-stressed,its program results in reduced response times tocustomer inquiries and the ability to expand beyondits traditional channels of support by motivatingemployees to keep on task and perform well at theirjobs (Finley, 2012). The Freshdesk solution involvestransforming customer inquiries (e.g., telephonequestions, comments posted on Twitter andFacebook) into virtual tickets that are then randomly assigned to players (i.e., customer service employees). In this way, Freshdesk inspires a real-time,competitive environment via which players compete to improve their performance. Freshdesk shows that employing gamification mechanics, dynamics, and emotions can increase fun,enthusiasm, and excitement at work in customersupport centers.

As call centers are notorious forbeing stressful work environments (Neidermeyer & Tuten, 2004); (Proper, 1998); (Tuten, 2004), and often rely ona ‘sacrificial HR strategy’ (Wallace, 2000) whereby employees are deliberately and frequently replaced in order to maintain enthusiastic customer support, the successful application of gamification in this context is particularly striking. Indeed, gamification in this context canlead to increases in job satisfaction and improved employee engagement and performance, and ultimately in superior organizational success. Even when teams compete, individual players areinvolved in coopetition or cooperation at the teamlevel while also vying for the lead within their team (Bengtsson, 2000). This coopetition dynamic ishighly desirable for managers and organizations, asitimproves individual, team, and ultimately organizational success. In addition,collecting points simply for collection’s sake wouldbe unlikely to motivate strivers or slayers. Theexperience failed to elicit desirable dynamics, suchas competition or coopetition, or emotions such aspride or challenge. Without the appropriate dynamics and emotional responses–—which emerge due togamification mechanics–—players will ‘bounce’ and seek the same response elsewhere (Tsotsis, 2011). Ultimately, managers must remember that the rootof engagement is establishing a connection between the experience and the people involved in the experience (Zichermann, 2011).


(Werbach, 2012) opined that, gamification builds on psychology from management, marketing and other disciplines, with some added concepts from game design. However, he stated that, just like any other management tool, it can be oversold or abused. It needs to be done thoughtfully to have a good chance of success. Gamification must, therefore, not be implemented in a “shallow way, with all the focus on external rewards” and discounting the underlying activity as stated by (Werbach, 2012). He advises managers to be aware of the limitations of gamification and to keep it within a structured design process. “Well-designed gamification can make employees feel more empowered in their tasks, because it gives them a wide range of feedback and a stronger sense of accomplishment.” According to (Mollick, 2014), gamification is not just about fun. It’s about how the company engage enough the employees to ensure they that the employees want to stay at work. The authors discovered that giving people a choice of theme gave them a feeling of empowerment that helps them embrace the game. The idea is to make gamification cooperative and not imposed.

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