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Gamification for Employee Engagement

By Akila Narayanan
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  1. Free Chapter
    Employee Engagement and Gamification
About this book
Publication date:
December 2014


Chapter 1. Employee Engagement and Gamification

It is a well-established fact that an engaged workforce delivers strong business outcomes. Gauging employee engagement levels through research findings or surveys clearly indicates that most organizations struggle to keep their workforce engaged. Lately, gamification has manifested success in influencing a person's behavior towards producing the desired outcome. Why are we associating employee engagement and gamification? In this book, we set out on a journey that will hopefully help us unravel this mystery.

In this chapter, we will cover:

  • What constitutes employee engagement

  • What is enterprise gamification

  • How gamification acts as a catalyst to drive employee engagement

  • The new age workforce

We now live in an era where globalization trends, economic shifts, societal reforms, and technological advents have converged to redefine both our personal and professional landscape. There are a large number of disruptive forces like IT consumerization, social collaboration, and virtualization that have stormed into the business world, propelling organizations to rethink their corporate strategies. One significant climate change is the surge of millennials, more commonly known as Gen Y, who are estimated to make up nearly half of the workforce by 2020 as predicted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of late, business organizations face major challenges in attracting, nurturing, and retaining the right mix of talent. At large, Baby Boomers or Gen X occupying the executive managerial positions at these organizations fail to understand the changing expectations of the millennial workforce, who not only comprise of the newer employee base, but also largely constitute the newer customer base.

Enterprises need to have a comprehensive understanding of the multi-generation employees and their expectations, so that the employee engagement strategies can be tailored according to their target audience.


Understanding the employee needs

Most enterprises have largely followed a hierarchical organizational structure backed by procedural norms, stringent processes, and standard work profiles that has worked relatively well with the generations of the past.

Baby Boomers

In relation to employee expectations, Baby Boomers lay importance to job security and financial stability, and are in turn willing to invest in long working hours with the utmost commitment and loyalty. They are extremely perseverant to work their way up to the top of the ladder gradually. As long as their basic financial needs are met, monotonous work doesn't seem to hamper their engagement levels.

Gen X

Though Gen X enrolls in the hierarchical culture, they expect more flexibility at their workplace, both in terms of work hours and their job profiles. They prefer meritocracy over experience to climb up the ladder. They are willing to accommodate, but engagement levels dip and loyalty does take a backseat if the job profile gets too repetitive. As long as the organizations rotate them to meaningful roles with adequate responsibilities and cater to their long-term aspirations, they will continue to serve to the best of their abilities.

Gen Y/Millennials

Workplace demographics have undergone a sea of change in the recent past with the entry of tech-savvy and hyper-active millennials. Being brought up in a fast-paced and digitally-connected culture, they have unique expectations from their employers. It is imperative for organizations to clearly understand the expectations of their younger workforce to better drive and sustain their engagement.

The following are some key expectations that employers should pay heed to:

  • Defy hierarchy: Millennials prefer a flat hierarchy over the traditional pyramid structure. Thanks to Internet technologies, they are supremely smart and well-exposed and don't subscribe to authoritative doctrines driven by sheer experience and positions. They have entrepreneurial spirits, and they don't give substantial weightage to formal education degrees as compared to on-the-job skills and innovation. As much as they respect experience, they believe in talent-driven and swift growth. They get to choose their jobs, employers, and bosses rather than the other way round.

  • Collaborative culture: Having been immersed in the virtual world of social media, millennials love to work as a team and enroll in open, transparent, participative, and collaborative cultures. They base most of their decisions on the recommendations from their peers, and they would like to extend that same culture at their workplace by collaborating and co-ideating with their colleagues.

  • Empowerment and trust: Millennials develop a sense of belongingness towards their organization if they are allowed to participate in important discussions, express their views freely, and showcase their creative abilities to make an impact in the accomplishment of the end objectives. Despite the challenges involved in a task, if they are empowered and entrusted, they deliver it with panache. They hate to be micro-managed as they view it as distrust. As against common perceptions, it is not the paycheck that matters to them most. If they love the job on hand and are allowed to operate freely with adequate autonomy, encouragement, and support from the management, they will be more engaged and surpass excellence more often.

  • Instant feedback: Rapid accessibility is of key priority to millennials, both in terms of seeking information and feedback. They expect their employers and supervisors to be responsive to their needs and demands. They can be termed as the fast-food generation who instantly expect a response, instantly warrant feedback, instantly anticipate recognition and growth, instantly get motivated, instantly get disengaged, and instantly look out for alternatives if the engagement levels are not sustained.

  • Flexible environment: Millennials expect flexibility with respect to many aspects at the workplace. They prefer the flexibility to work from anywhere, anytime rather than being confined to cubicles with rigid timings. They favor a lenient dress code policy and prefer casual over formal attire. They prefer to attend training programs aligned to their career aspirations and contribute to organizational initiatives in line with their personal interests.

  • Sense of purpose: Millennials always respect and contribute to initiatives that have a sense of purpose and demonstrate goodwill in supporting the community. They have a deeper sense of responsibility as a citizen and stand by those brands and business organizations that establish a corporate social responsibility towards their community. If they can identify the goals of the organization, they will give it their all.

The employee engagement rules of the past might no longer be relevant to a new age workforce; its time to reinvent.


A classic case of employee engagement

Before developing strategies to engage employees within an organization, it is important to understand what employee engagement actually is.

A story scenario

Sam works as a project lead in an IT company. He has a team of 10 members under him and they have been working on a critical customer-facing project with stiff deadlines. After 8 months of slogging, the team has successfully delivered the code and the User Acceptance Testing has been signed-off by the customer. Tim, Rina, and Kevin are the three senior developers who have invested extra efforts and have been waiting for an opportunity to avail vacation. Sam approves their vacation and they are all set to leave to their respective hometowns the next morning.

Sam receives a call that evening from a customer that a certain bug has been uncovered before the production move, and they urgently need someone to support the fix.

Sam calls up the three team members individually and asks them whether they can support the emergency situation.

Tim retaliates, "Sam, could you check this with Rina? She just got promoted and ideally she should own this up."

Rina reacts, "Sam, I would love to take this up because this project got me recognition. But I am afraid I can't cancel this personal vacation. Can you make an alternate arrangement? I can definitely support the team over call or e-mail."

Kevin responds, "Sam, our months of hard work might go to waste if this bug turns up in production and our organization's reputation might be at stake considering the criticality of the project. Let me report to the office tomorrow postponing the vacation."


In the case presented earlier, Tim seems demotivated because of a denied personal recognition and chooses to pass the buck. Rina, though motivated by her recent elevation, is looking for alternate options to somehow manage the situation rather than owning it up. Whereas Kevin seems to be the engaged employee, who goes beyond his call of duty and demonstrates a sense of ownership and accountability.

Research studies prove that engaged employees establish a strong emotional connect with the organization or job and are willing to invest discretionary efforts. Employee engagement can be defined as the degree to which an employee is bonded towards his organization or job.

The following are some of the key characteristics that define an engaged employee:

  • They understand the holistic picture and strategic objectives of the organization.

  • They are self-driven, staying focused in accomplishing the end objectives.

  • They are passionate about their work.

  • They place their job priority above personal priorities.

  • They are accountable, take complete ownership, and travel the extra mile.

  • They are persistent and not bogged down by temporary setbacks.

  • They are participative in team discussions and provide suggestions for improvement.

  • They are optimistic and work effectively in a team setup by collaborating with others.

  • They solicit constructive feedback and constantly upgrade their skills.

  • They have a sense of belongingness and take pride in associating themselves with the organization.

An engaged employee is in a self-actualized state of being, peaking the pyramid of motivation as proposed by Maslow.


Make a note

Read more on Maslow's hierarchy of needs at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs.


Employee engagement quotient and the 5 Whys

Every organization devises their own means of gauging their employee engagement levels, and typically, a survey is launched for the employees to gather their feedback.

Employee engagement survey

Given below is a simple employee engagement survey, a fairly quick means of determining the levels of engagement.

Never (Score: 0 points); Sometimes yes (Score: 1 point); Always (Score: 2 points)

Sr. No.



Sometimes yes



Do I feel passionate about my job?



Do I have a sense of belongingness towards my organization?



Do I feel empowered to voice my opinions freely?



Do I feel that my ideas are invited and implemented?



Am I valued and recognized for my contributions?



Do I feel challenged and inspired to meet my goals?



Do I receive constant support and encouragement from my supervisor(s)?



Do we collaborate and work well as a team in the peer group?



Am I given the opportunity that aligns with my career aspirations?



Do I feel accountable for my errors and omissions?



Would I work with the organization on long-term basis?



Would I refer my friends to join this organization?

  • A score of (0 – 8) points indicates that your employees are highly disengaged.

  • A score of (9 – 16) points indicates that your employees are somewhat engaged.

  • A score of (17 – 24) points indicates that your employees are highly engaged.

Though the employee identity can be anonymous, it helps to collect some generic profile information on the age, gender, department, number of years of service with the company, and supervisor information to drill down the data further and understand where to lay focus. If the employee engagement quotient, that is, the number of employees highly engaged in proportion to overall employee headcount, is low, enterprises need to follow up with a detailed root cause analysis to assess the drivers of disengagement and revisit their systems, processes, and policies in place.

Common causes of disengagement

A recent survey from Gallup Inc., a research-based global performance-management consulting company, indicates that only 30% of American employees are engaged at the workplace. That is quite an alarming trend and needs serious retrospection as to what leads to disengagement.

Understanding the root cause behind employee disengagement is a critical step, and one useful technique in digging deep is the 5 Why Analysis.

A story scenario

Richard was a star performer in ABC team, and his performance has deteriorated over the last few months. Asking a series of Whys might lead us to the root cause:

  1. Why? – He doesn't report to work regularly (the first why).

  2. Why? – He is not motivated to work in ABC team (the second why).

  3. Why? – The tasks he performs in ABC team don't interest him (the third why).

  4. Why? – The tasks assigned to him are monotonous in nature (the fourth why).

  5. Why? – The job profile mismatches with his skill levels and aspirations (fifth why and the root cause).

The solution

Match Richard's job profile with his skill levels and aspirations. Replace him with a junior level resource to perform his current tasks and offer challenging assignments to Richard.

In this scenario, by using the 5 Whys technique, we have figured out the root cause behind the disengagement and came up with a possible solution.

An employee always forms part of an organizational ecosystem where they are surrounded by three core entities within the organization. When they are misaligned with the key attributes or the stakeholders involving these entities, it might escalate to disengagement.


Key Attributes



Vision, Culture, Leadership, Systems, Processes, Policies

Executive Leadership, Senior Management

Current Department

Mentoring, Support, Relationship, Job Profile, Role

Supervisor, Peers, Subordinates

Support Functions

Talent and Performance Management, Compensation and Benefits, Training

Co-workers from other departments (HR, Finance, Training Executives)

The common causes of disengagement include:

  • Lack of vision and thinking in leadership

  • Lack of purpose, goals, and expectations

  • Lack of training and support

  • Lack of open and transparent culture

  • Strained relationship with supervisor or peers

  • Job profile and skill level mismatch

  • Mundane tasks at work

  • Outdated systems and processes

  • Lack of job stability

  • Lack of rewards and recognition

  • Poor performance management

  • Lack of periodic and constructive feedback

The right pay for the right job has become more of a prerequisite for an employee when choosing a job. While compensation can satisfy employees to a certain extent, they don't have a direct influence or impact on the engagement levels. In some cases, disengagement can be completely attributed to the idiosyncrasies of the individuals, for example, some employees might have the tendency to procrastinate, and some might inherently lack team spirit.

Organizations need to carry out a formal evaluation of their employee engagement levels, identify the prominent causes towards disengagement, and implement strategies to avert them in order to retain and extract the optimal value out of their talent mix.


Driving engagement the SMART way

Before moving on to attaining the highest degree of engagement, we have to get the nitty-gritties right in driving engagement at a fundamental level. There are five factors that prescribe an employee's expectations at the workplace. Those termed as the SMART factors include Satisfaction, Motivation, Advancement, Recognition, and Trust.


A satisfied employee need not be an engaged employee, but an engaged employee is almost always a satisfied employee. At the outset, job satisfaction indicates the degree to which an employee is content with their job, whereas engagement bespeaks the degree to which an employee goes beyond the call of duty. 75 – 80% of employees can be satisfied if they are assured of the following factors:

  • Job security

  • Financial stability

  • Compensation

  • Benefits

  • Flexibility at the workplace

While satisfaction can't directly contribute to engagement, it can certainly disturb the engagement level if not taken care of.


A satisfied employee need not be a motivated employee and a motivated employee need not be an engaged employee, whereas an engaged employee is almost always a satisfied-cum-motivated employee. Motivation refers to the psychological drive that reinforces one's action towards accomplishing a task or goal. It clearly indicates why an employee behaves in a certain fashion.

When comprehending motivation, it is essential to understand the two major types of motivation, namely extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to the motivation that is attained by an external push or outcomes.

For example, if you accomplish task X, then we offer you Y as outcome. Y could constitute money, rewards, and status, or it could even be a penalty. Here, the motivation to perform or the anxiety to perform is driven by external forces and the sustenance is guaranteed as long as the outcome is clearly articulated and awarded on time.

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation refers to the motivation that is attained by an internal push, only as much as the task interests oneself. Here, the motivation to perform comes from within, as the employee derives some sense of pleasure in undertaking the task and thereby longer sustenance is guaranteed.

An employee would implicitly tell themselves that if they accomplish task X, then they would derive Y as outcome. Y could constitute happiness, a sense of accomplishment, skill upgrade, or it could even be fear of losing self-respect. You might agree that many of us have certain expectations from ourselves and feel miserable not when we lose, but when we fail to invest efforts or perform to the best of our abilities.

On the contrary to extrinsic motivation where Y is more tangible, here, Y is more intangible, and we value it mostly for ourselves.

A story scenario

There is a kid in my avenue that cries non-stop and creates a huge scene on Monday mornings to not go to school. Even as grown-up adults, we hate Monday mornings, don't we?

The parents then make it a habit to buy the kid a chocolate if he/she attends school regularly on Mondays. The kid infers that if he/she resists going to school, the parents will buy a chocolate. The kid starts crying on Tuesday mornings too and the parents are forced to buy chocolates on Tuesdays too. The kid continues the trend for all the weekdays and the parents struggle in dealing with the kid's stubbornness and are clueless what to do next.

What would be your suggestion to the kid's parents? Do you think they had the right strategy in the first place to deal with the problem? Given their current strategy, do you think they should entertain the kid's request in the longer run? Mind you, this might finally land the kid at a dentist's clinic for treating a tooth cavity.


Many times, employers think that extrinsic motivation works best, but tend to overlook the fact that it purely depends on how the employees perceive it, and their strategies could completely backfire, leaving the sustenance at bay. We need a strategy that works beyond carrots and sticks at the workplace to attain the desired levels of engagement.


Advancement refers to the growth in one's career in terms of designation or position, usually in relation to their good performance. This can also involve advancement in terms of gaining knowledge, skills, and maturity to move to the next level or undertake challenging assignments. Millennials usually expect quality time from their supervisors to mentor and guide them towards career progression in alignment with their aspirations. Advancement again can be intrinsic in the manner in which an employee feels that they have come a long way being part of the continuous journey of learning.


Recognition is commonly associated with rewards given as a token of appreciation for accomplishing excellence. It symbolizes acknowledgement of one's good work. From tangibles to virtual awards, recognition can reassure an employee of their value to the organization. Employers fail to realize that recognition need not always translate to something materialistic. What is of utmost importance with respect to recognition is timeliness and genuineness. A timely Thank you e-mail, pat on the back (literally), even a smile or a nod from a senior executive can be associated with recognition as it just represents that we are being valued and respected in the place where we belong. Many times, employees value recognition from their teams and peers as much as they value recognition when it flows top-down. An ambience needs to be created at the workplace, where each of us within a group values and recognizes each other's contribution. The ultimate means of recognition comes from respect and repute that an employee earns at the workplace.


First of all, an employee needs to develop a sense of trust in the organization's purpose of existence and directions from the executive leadership team. Much of the disengagement surfaces when leaders fail to communicate a clear vision. Secondly, how often do we hear the phrase, Employees don't leave an organization but leave their supervisor? However much an organization invests to build policies of faith and trust, there is a larger onus on the middle managers and supervisors to ensure that it is established on the ground with their subordinates in the truest sense. The highest point of trust is accomplished when an employee is able to expose their vulnerabilities to the supervisor, seek help, and gain wisdom. When things don't work the way they are planned, supervisors should lend the adequate support rather than blaming it squarely on the subordinates. If the seed of transparency is deep-rooted on the soil of trust, loyalty can be harvested. A simple rule to remember is, trust is mutual.

These SMART factors are more like prerequisites to drive engagement. The organization should strive to build a culture and environment where employees are satisfied with their basic needs, motivated to perform to the best of their abilities, feel assured of progressions, receive acknowledgement of their value, and feel part of a trusted group in order to drive deeper levels of engagement.

Now that we have the prerequisites lined up, it is time to dive deeper into levels of engagement.

A story scenario

Steve is the Regional Head who oversees the team of sales and marketing executives. While there is no dearth of talent in the individuals, Steve observes the following issues while carrying out a performance review for his region:

  • The sales executives miss out on responding to customer e-mails promptly, which results in customer complaints.

  • The sales executives often take vacation without prior intimation.

  • The marketing executives don't pass on clear information about the prospects.

  • The marketing executives don't keep the brochure updated in the sales repository.

  • The marketing executives and sales executives don't collaborate well with each other.

  • The sales and marketing teams are always at loggerheads, blaming each other in the case of missed targets.

  • The region might miss accomplishing the targets as a team if the trend continues.

Steve convenes a meeting with his team and informs that there is a new announcement from his global head that the team that performs exceedingly well at regional levels will qualify for a big honor from the CEO of the firm. He points out the misalignment between the sales and marketing teams, and expresses concern. But he also assures that if both the parties start collaborating from then on, they could make it to the top of the charts.

Steve's team expresses certain concerns as to why they are unable to collaborate effectively and also assure him that they will make the necessary reforms at their end.

Steve comes up with a few initiatives to address the concerns and implements them promptly:

  • He tracks and publishes the top salesman of the month, who got good feedback from the customers.

  • He formalizes leave or vacation tracking in the system and shares the report with the team, honoring the consistently punctual employees with badges.

  • He facilitates a channel for the sales and marketing executives to easily collaborate with each other and share knowledge and recognizes the valuable contributors.

  • He provides access to both sales and marketing teams to a single integrated CRM system to maintain prospect and customer contacts and awards points for providing additional insights about the contacts that can translate to sales conversions.

Steve observes a significant change in the employees' behavior and his team does emerge as the top region of the year, meeting the revenue targets.


Whenever a group of individuals are entrusted with a task with clearly defined objectives and expectations, challenged to march towards a mission or a quest, establish prompt feedback loops, enable a platform for sharing knowledge, and collaborating and valued for their contributions, it brings the best out of them in the capacity of individuals and as a team. In a nutshell, the routine chores when gamified can seed deeper levels of engagement.


Defining enterprise gamification

Before delving into enterprise gamification, does "business enterprise" and "game" together sound like an oxymoron? You would be surprised to notice certain similarities between these two non-related terms.

A game can be thought to have certain attributes:

  • Goal: A player sets their eye on a target to achieve.

  • Rules: Structure and How-To's of a game.

  • Player(s): One/many who participates.

  • Outcome: Declared a winner if the goals are met, lose otherwise.

  • Feedback: Player is kept updated of the progress.

If you observe closely, business enterprises also have relevance to the following attributes:

  • Goal: A business enterprise has strategic objectives to accomplish.

  • Rules: Structure and policies that govern the organization.

  • Players: Employees who work for the organization.

  • Outcome: Declared a success if the objectives are met, fail otherwise.

  • Feedback: Applicable both at an employee and organizational level to gauge their progress.

While a game is played mainly as a pastime fun activity, gamification doesn't exactly signify playing games. It refers to the application of game design thinking in non-game contexts to engage users. In other words, we incite the user by turning a purposeful activity into an engaging one by delivering a game-like experience.

Before proceeding further, it is important to understand the distinction between these terminologies below:

  • Fun game: An actual game played for the purpose of pure fun or entertainment.

  • Serious game: An actual game played for a meaningful purpose apart from pure fun or entertainment.

  • Gamification: A non-game context is transformed into game-like experience leveraging attributes derived from game psychology.

Gaming is often associated with the spirit of one party winning and the other party losing. On the contrary, in the context of an enterprise, gamification can act as a catalyst that improves employee engagement, thereby resulting in a win-win situation for both employer and employee. A good gamification platform can help employers understand and influence the behavior of their employees to work towards accomplishing the desired outcome. In order to envision and design such a platform, it requires a comprehensive understanding of game thinking so that it can be leveraged to influence the behavior of an employee.

Have you ever felt like being completely immersed in an activity when you don't hear the loud utterances from your mom or spouse, the ringtone of the phone, the whir of a fan or air conditioner, or the noise of a ticking clock? This is what is termed as the optimal point of engagement called flow zone, as proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.


Make a note

Read more about the concept of flow (psychology) at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow.

Psychologically, it has been proven time and again that most humans experience the state of flow while playing games. A game designer always dreams of creating a game that fully exploits this flow phenomenon. The perfect setting for a flow is achieved only when the player is performing at their optimal skill level or ability. A game should be designed in such a fashion that the challenge matches the player's ability.

When the challenge level is too high considering the player's abilities, the player experiences too much anxiety or frustration and shies away. In contrast, when the challenge level is not on par with the player's abilities, the player tends to enter the boredom zone and shows huge signs of disengagement. An ideal game should ensure that the challenge matches the player's current ability for the player to enter into the flow zone and gradually groom them over time to gain mastery with practice. The player starts with a small challenge but eventually confronts huge challenges with an inherent desire to upgrade their abilities and become the master.

An employer can exploit game design principles in order to create that flow zone in the workplace and groom their employees to achieve high skill levels and attain highest efficiency levels. With well-defined goals and active feedback loops, an employee can enter into the flow zone whenever they are challenged with an opportunity that matches their inherent potential.

Enterprises have started leveraging this powerful concept of gamification in engaging their workforce, paving the way to a new buzzword called enterprise gamification. This refers to deploying gamification within an enterprise to engage and align with the workforce better. The employees are empowered to explore personal strengths, enhance competencies, establish social connections, and attain a sense of accomplishment. The employer, in turn, benefits from the improved productivity, improved service to the customer, and better employee retention. The employer is able to accomplish the desired outcome, keeping the employee engaged to a higher degree.

Approaches to gamification can be broadly bucketed in two major categories:

  • Process-centric gamification

  • User-centric gamification

Process-centric gamification

An organization can take up processes within an enterprise and induce game mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics into the process to make it more efficient and engaging for the users.

Case study – 1

Microsoft used gamification on top of its bug testing engine to encourage non-QA staff to perform bug testing. The company used gamification for language translations in software localization efforts to publicize top contributors.

The impact has been stellar, with 4,500 participants reviewing 500,000 dialog boxes addressing 170 bugs. Particularly, Microsoft Japan took just a single day to weed out all localization errors.

Case study – 2

Cognizant launched an internal platform called OneCognizant (1C) that facilitates business process orchestration through an internal app store with game mechanics and dynamics intertwined to engage its employees.

The impact has been overwhelming, with 10 million user hits, 100,000 likes, and 300 plus apps in the app store, enabling 102 business processes and five engagement channels contributing to a modest increase in employee satisfaction score with three key business processes doubling in user compliance.

User-centric gamification

An organization can launch a gamified initiative to engage and influence the user primarily with the objective of rendering the user more effective and efficient. Typically, this comprises of improving employee wellness and individual productivity.

Case study – 1

NextJump, an offers and rewards company in New York, built its own internal health application that split the company into five teams and rewarded the winning teams for regularly exercising by depositing cash in each team member's health savings account.

The impact has been that 70 – 75% of NextJump's employees work out regularly. This saves the company millions of dollars in work attendance and insurance costs, and makes the workplace healthier and happier.

Case study – 2

Keeping in view the resistance to change and to emphasize the importance of change in management, an initiative called tiny changes was floated in my organization. Employees can tweet about a tiny change that they have incorporated in their workplace or personal lives. Every week, a winner would be picked by the CIO.

The employees adopted this initiative big time and started incorporating slight changes in their routine that increased their wellness and created a congenial work environment. Sharing the tiny changes with the community encouraged others to adopt these changes. A few tiny changes incorporated by the associates that went viral are as follows:

I started using the staircase instead of the elevator and feel more brisk and refreshed.

I walk over to the desk of my teammates and help them troubleshoot. I derive more satisfaction.

I have started to volunteer for the CSR program and tutor underprivileged children over the weekends.

Enterprise gamification can benefit organizations in many ways, a significant few being:

  • Improve employee engagement

  • Increase employee productivity

  • Effective problem solving

  • Improve quality of service

  • Drive innovation

  • Enhance synergy and collaboration

  • Increase speed to market

  • Better employee retention


Gamification catalyst for employee engagement

Many times, an employee fails to enter into the flow zone because they don't identify with the goals, so they think, What is in it for me? Game mechanics can help bridge that gap in demonstrating that value in an engaging manner.

A well-designed gamification system that lets employees enter into a flow zone by deploying a combination of these mechanics can achieve higher levels of employee engagement.

Game mechanics at enterprises

The following are a few game mechanics and illustrations of scenarios within an enterprise where they may apply:

Game Mechanic




A virtual or physical indication of having accomplished something.

An employee is rewarded as "Best performer of the month." (can be virtual rewards)


A predetermined time or place a user must log in or participate in the game for positive effect.

An employee is expected to complete a knowledge quest on Know your organizational assets or Know your customer, after coming on board.

Behavioral momentum

Tendency of players to keep doing what they have been doing.

An employee continues to play a skill game and gains learning credits even after exceeding the stipulated credits for the annual period.

Blissful productivity

The feeling of being happy by playing a game and working hard, rather than being idle or relaxed.

An employee volunteers to perform a challenging task and aspires to accomplish the goals with utmost commitment.


Reward after completing a series of challenges or core functions.

An employee is rewarded with performance incentives or spot awards for their delivery excellence.

Cascading information theory

Release information in minimum possible snippets to gain the appropriate level of understanding at each point during a game narrative.

An employee who is an entry level trainee is required to complete the basic level of technology training and gains a beginner badge and is gradually encouraged to learn the advanced curriculum as subsequent levels to gain mastery.


Reward skills after completing a combination of actions.

An employee is required to complete x hours of attending training sessions and y hours of handling training sessions and complete a certification in order to gain learning credits for the period under consideration.

Community Collaboration

Entire community is rallied to work together in solving a riddle, problem or challenge.

An employee is required to drive their team to win the Best Product Idea award where they work collaboratively with marketing executives and functional and technical analysts.


Players are only given a certain amount of time to do something.

An employee is given compensatory leave for a day that needs to be availed within the next 2 weeks.


Surprise the players by letting them discover or explore something.

An employee submits an innovative idea and receives an invite for Lunch with the leadership team.

Epic Meaning

Players will be highly motivated if they believe they are working to achieve something great, something awe-inspiring, something bigger than themselves.

An employee is given the opportunity to lead a huge product venture that could transform the fortunes of the company as part of their diversification roadmap.

Free Lunch

Players feel they are getting something for free due to someone else's hard work.

An employee at junior level has joined a team that wins the Project of the year award, so they feel lucky and blessed to be part of the team and want to contribute more.

Infinite Gameplay

Game that does not have an explicit end as it constantly refreshes the content or the player works towards a static or positive state.

An employee who has completed longer years of service continues to invest their best as they feel part of a continuous learning journey.


Players are rewarded an increasing value for cumulating points and they have a feeling of moving up the ladder.

An employee is elevated to appropriate roles with clear career growth options in alignment with their competency levels.

Loss Aversion

Influencing player behavior not by reward, but by instituting punishment.

An employee is clearly shown the consequences of violating the code of ethics.


Winner is determined solely by chance to create a high level of anticipation.

An employee participates in a referral program where there is a sweepstake to double the referral bonus.


Players can create, customize, and control their own characters, items, goods, or other things that strengthens loyalty.

An employee is empowered to manage a small venture within their group, unleashing their creativity.


Numerical value given for any single action or combination of actions.

An employee is rewarded points for maximum contribution in Ask the expert forums in the period under consideration.


Success is granularly displayed and measured through the process of completing itemized tasks.

An employee is shown their continuous progression in achieving the goals set for the current year in the performance review system.


The journey of obstacles a player must overcome.

An employee is thrown the challenge of completing a series of certifications to gain the SME status.

Reward Schedules

The timeframe and delivery mechanisms through which rewards (points, prizes, level ups) are delivered.

An employee is clearly shown the reward guidelines and delivery mechanisms in order to push themselves to compete with their peers and excel.


Rank or level of a player.

An employee is elevated to a higher rank if they perform at a higher level.

Urgent Optimism

Indicates extreme self-motivation with a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.

An employee is highly motivated to tackle a challenging situation in a customer project and upholds their organizational brand and their own repute.


A game element that requires multiple people to play or that can be played better with multiple people.

An employee launches and popularizes a crowdsourcing initiative and gathers tons of ideas from the rest of the team to deliver continuous process improvements.

Gamification and Gen Y

Earlier in the chapter, we referred to certain changing expectations from the Gen Y/millennials at the workplace. You can observe some interesting correlations of these attributes to playing games, which are as follows:

  • Defy hierarchy: While playing a game, every player is treated equally. A player is usually appreciated based on the merit of the play they exhibit on the day or moment of play, rather than making it based on past glory or positions.

    A gamified initiative in a workplace can effortlessly create a culture where employees are treated alike and their ideas are welcomed and implemented purely based on merit.

  • Collaborative culture: Games promote a sense of collaboration between the participant players, more so evident in sports when played as team games comprising of players from diverse cultures representing different regions or countries. They provide avenues for the players to mingle and compete in high spirits. They enable people to understand each other's skills better, socialize, and achieve a common goal.

    At the workplace, people representing diverse cultures and backgrounds get together to accomplish common goals within an enterprise. A gamified initiative would help to bring the teams together and for the employees to understand about each other's skills and perform well as a team to achieve a common objective.

  • Empowerment and trust: One of the important qualities that intrinsically motivates a player while playing a game is the autonomy that he/she enjoys in making creative moves based on his/her own instincts and abilities. The player is given the liberty to experiment, take risks, face failures, make adjustments, get better and better with more practice, and finally get to winning ways as he/she gains mastery. When players are entrusted with certain roles, they excel and bring the best out of themselves.

    At the workplace, when employees are empowered and entrusted to deliver, they are extremely motivated and engaged in owning up to the tasks. A gamified initiative can provide that exhilarated feeling of creative accomplishment. One example would be to decentralize innovation and generate quality ideas from creative employees across the organization through the deployment of game mechanics.

  • Instant feedback: The most engaging aspect of the game lies in receiving instant feedback. The player can infer the consequences of every move made that lets him/her strategize further moves. Irrespective of the outcomes, the player feels a sense of achievement, especially when they boast of their progress and achievements in the peer network and receive acknowledgement from their close circles.

    Any gamified initiative incorporates the feedback element as its core where the progress can be published to the community transparently and recognition can be bestowed on a timely basis.

  • Flexible environment: Games are designed to operate in a flexible and fun environment where the players experience a sense of unforced immersion and relaxation.

    A gamified initiative can effectively induce certain elements of flexibility and fun in performing tasks that are otherwise stressful, monotonous, and mundane in nature.

  • Sense of purpose: All games demonstrate a sense of purpose for the players who participate in the game. The purpose could be to attain individual glory, bring honors to the team they represent, or could be a cause of charity. That purpose would drive the players to perform at their peaks.

    An employee demonstrates their highest levels of engagement when he/she understands and enrolls in a larger cause. A gamified initiative can help employees in discovering that sense of purpose and the impact of their contributions.

Accelerating engagement among employees

Employers within an enterprise can adopt the best practices taking cue from successful initiatives from both non-enterprise and enterprise context. These initiatives demonstrate real value in effectively deploying gamification as a catalyst for engagement.

Driving behavioral changes

By inducing fun, gamification can drive behavioral change towards positive reinforcement.


Fun Theory, an initiative by Volkswagen is changing people's behavior for the better. The initiative goes to prove that the best way to drive behavioral change is to let users take part in activities that are fun to undertake with underlying serious benefits. Users are invited to share fun ideas that would drive good behavior and are rewarded.

Speed Camera Lottery, an idea conceived by Kevin Richardson from USA is implemented at Sweden in collaboration with the National Society for Road Safety where the camera at traffic lights snaps the vehicles that pass by along with their speed levels. The law abiders who follow speed limits enter into a lottery and win rewards that are essentially sponsored by the pool of money collected as penalty from those who violate the speed. Average speed in Stockholm trial decreased from 32 to 25 kilometers an hour.

Similarly an idea submitted by Nevena Stojanovic from Serbia called Play Belt ensures everyone uses their safety belt in vehicles. Its only when the seat belt is fastened, the in-car entertainment system is switched on, encouraging the kids to follow rules, which they otherwise ignore. This ensures a positive reinforcement to help people adopt safe driving practices that can save lives.

Takeaways for employers

When it comes to code of ethics, security and compliance matters, employees always show a slack attitude in adhering to the protocols. Employers can take a leaf out of this and deploy such fun theory at workplace to drive behavioral changes in employees, especially when it comes to compliance training that has serious implications but often overlooked by the workforce. In fact, in every job that we perform, if we can figure out the element of fun, the tedious aspects of a job can be masked in a game.

Inducing intrinsic motivation

Through interesting game mechanics, gamification kindles intrinsic motivation to perform an activity.


Nike, the sports shoe company is a classic example of how intrinsic motivation can be induced into an otherwise tiresome activity like exercising. The company introduced a Nike+ sports kit, where the users attach a sensor in their shoes to track, store and transmit data on their workouts. This includes monitoring activities like duration, speed, distance traveled, calories burned. As the users exercise, they can set personal workout goals in the iPhone app, tune in to favorite music and receive instant feedbacks on their health progress. The data captured is synchronized with the Nike+ server and in turn displayed at the community website. The user can log in to the website to track their workout data, share with friends in the community and enter challenges.

Nike+ has become a unique product category and pushed competition to emulate its success. Nike+'s online community has more than 2 million active members. All members have run 120 million-plus miles, achieved 240,000 daily goals and earned over 220,000 achievements. This in turn increased their membership and helped in boosting company's overall revenue.

Takeaways for employers

In an enterprise, employees are faced with mundane activities that don't inspire them to stay engaged. A typical example could be a clerical job, mobile marketing or customer service job. In such cases, employers can induce game mechanics to intrinsically motivate the employees by providing instant feedback monitoring their key performance indicators, conduct quests and facilitate employee community interactions.

Seeding corporate social responsibility

Gamification aids in promoting awareness and garnering participation towards sustainability programs targeted at social wellness.


Ecoinomy, a software solution company has recently partnered with a utility company to encourage their employees to contribute a portion of their monetary savings to community causes chosen by them. Each employee has an online account and submits ideas on eco-saving opportunities and the amount of money and CO2 emissions saved are tracked.

Over 25 percent of the staff joined with the pilot scheme and the project, helped save the utility £41,000 in costs and 66 tons of CO2. An annualized estimate of the savings for each employee active in the scheme came to £350, which translates to a potential £7 million in savings if every employee took up the challenge in the future. £8,000 was donated to local causes and nearly 5,000 actions undertaken.

Takeaways for employers

Gamification and sustainability are becoming synonymous these days and corporate houses are employing the tactic to engage their employee community to contribute towards causes of social good including philanthropy and green revolution. Nearly 70 percent of the employees in any organization, identify with causes of social good, and employers should look to gamify CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and sustainability programs as this creates a sense of belongingness towards their organization.

Better synergy and collaboration

Gamification drives community collaboration to seek and share knowledge.


Enterprise software giant SAP's Community Network (SCN), is one of the early pioneers that adopted gamification to enable its developers, customers, and partners to collaborate within respective communities and share knowledge.

With over 200,000 contributors overall, there are about 1,170 discussions per day with 17,000 likes, 7,000 comments, and 6,000 ratings per day on average. Particularly after upgrading the gamification features last year, content creation, comments, and feedback is reported to be up by 113%, community feedback by 250%, and points up by 147% with over 50% month-over-month increase of badges.

Takeaways for employers

Many organizations have started to build a community of practitioners within an enterprise, where peers can network with each other to share knowledge and ask for expert help in the community forums. In order to gain better adoption of such initiatives and to strengthen them, gamification can help a long way in developing better synergy, as is evident in the case of SCN.



In this chapter, our intention was to understand about the changing expectations of the new age workforce that when not catered to, leads to employee disengagement. Having analyzed the root causes, we learnt about driving employee engagement the SMART way. Further, we illustrated that gamification can act as a catalyst to attain and sustain the highest degree of engagement levels.

In the next chapter, we will learn how to apply gamification within the organizational business processes to increase employee engagement.

About the Author
  • Akila Narayanan

    Akila Narayanan has over a decade of experience in the IT industry and is currently working as a project manager with one of the global IT leaders. She is a social business enthusiast and evangelist with vast experience managing complex and strategic projects for insurance customers. She specializes in enabling social business and gamification for insurance customers, has published thought papers and created customer mindshare. She is an avid blogger in her organizational community and her areas of interest include project management, people/human resource management, behavioral analysis, motivation, process and quality, knowledge management, social business, gamification, and innovation. She is also interested in convergence of social, mobile, cloud, and analytics technologies. She has a strong passion for enabling people, a keen observer and an empathic thinker. She holds a Bachelor's degree in engineering from University of Madras and is PMP, AINS certified. She has completed the online gamification course offered by coursera.org. Akila Narayanan is based out of Chennai, India. She can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/pub/akila-narayanan/46/27b/403.

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Gamification for Employee Engagement
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