Gamification in HR: Does it Work?

Gamification has grown exponentially in the past decade. Now that this phenomenon has had time to develop in the public sphere and integrate into the workplace, we’re able to assess its efficacy: has gamification actually shown results? Here’s the overview of when gamification works and when it doesn’t.

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Gamification in the workplace

Developed in 2008, gamification has grown exponentially in the past decade. Today you can see examples of it everywhere: receiving stamps for cups of coffee, gaining new features in running apps, even military training utilizes gaming features. Now that this phenomenon has had time to develop in the public sphere and integrate into the workplace, we’re able to assess its efficacy: has gamification actually shown results? The answer is complicated– once again proving a “golden solution” doesn’t quite exist.

Results are not guaranteed

Basically, there are a lot of “if”s within gamification. Literature suggests that it does tend to have overall positive results, though it depends heavily on how the gamification is set up as well as who is using it. To be impactful and engaging, the game must be challenging, but not difficult enough to become frustrating. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if the game is too easy or predictable, users will lose interest. The most successful game has an element of surprise.

As for the users, if an employee is not largely motivated to begin with, offering status rewards or new levels will not typically generate that motivation. Gamification will only amplify the motivation which already exists.

Furthermore, while some employees respond well to competition, others shrink away from it. Though it can excite our sense of tenacity, too much of it hinders collaboration, and that fine line varies between personalities.

This is all to say– gamification is not the one-stop-shop to improving productivity. However, it does seem to have tapped into a few critical human instincts, proving partially successful in increasing employee engagement.

Where gamification succeeds

Bringing us back to the positive results of gamification, we can look at the psychological workings behind the lines of code. Here are the (albeit simplified) main reasons gamification is able to increase employee productivity:

  • Autonomy: According to researcher Dr. Daniel Wheatley, employees that had some semblance of independence and choice responded with higher job satisfaction, job performance, innovation, and workplace satisfaction than those who did not have any choice. Independence and personal preference within gamification can all help promote autonomy within roles.
  • Fun: When we accomplish something, our brain releases dopamine, making us feel euphoric while reinforcing the behavior that released that dopamine (i.e. doing our boring ol’ work).  Gamification taps into this reward cycle in our brains.
  • Competence: The more one improves a specific skill, the more likely he or she is to continue doing it. Gaining new features or reaching new levels within a game provides measurable results, reinforcing the idea that the employee is learning and growing. Employee engagement is hugely beneficial to productivity and profitability; the promise of individual growth will ensure that engagement.

While gamifying your office might not be the perfect productivity boost, understanding the psychological appeal behind the game can help you implement those ideas into your workplace in a fashion that works for all employees.

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