Gamification in the Workplace

Robson, K., Plangger, K., Kietzmann, J. H., McCarty, I., & Pitt, L. (2015). Is it all a game? Understanding the principles of gamification. Business Horizons, 58(4), 411-420.

Robson et al., provide a detailed article about how the game design principles in a non-gaming context can be used in a business environment with employees. The authors note that organizations have long motivated their employees and customers with game-like incentives. However, with much of what organizations do these days being mediated by digital technologies coupled with a variety of social media tools, gamification has potentially widespread application in contexts such as healthcare, sustainability, government, transportation and education (p. 412). Robson et al., define gamification as “the application of lessons from the gaming domain to change behaviors in non-game situations (p. 412). Thus, gamified experiences can focus on business processes or outcomes and can even involve participants, or players as they are called, from within or outside an organization or institution. Although gaming has been around the work environment for many years, the authors posit three recent developments that have brought a heightened awareness back to gamification in the workplace including: 1) better studies on gaming mechanics, dynamics and emotions, 2) the pervasiveness of social media and web-based technologies, and 3) the need for organizations to look for new and impactful ways to better connect with their employees.

Robson et al., make a compelling case for “why” gamification works in workplace. The authors suggest that gamification can change stakeholder behavior because it taps into intrinsic motivational drivers. Also, they indicate that since gamification usually involves the repetition of desired outcomes, that habits can be formed that require less cognitive resources each time a desired activity is reproduced. Additionally, the authors claim that gamification can create a desired behavior change in work contexts through rewarding desired employee behaviors thus leading to more satisfying outcomes. Therefore, as purported by Robson et al., by tapping into rewards and emotions, an effective gamification experience will motivate individuals’ behavior changes in a workplace setting. Furthermore, to take gamification to scale, Robson et al., suggest the gaming framework must include: 1) input from designers, players, spectators and observers, 2) game mechanics set by the designer, known before the experience starts and remain constant throughout the game, 3) offering players game dynamics that encourage strategic actions and interactions where players are less likely to quit, concede or settle, and 4) gaming that yields emotions that are fun-oriented and appealing. In the end, the authors highlight that all organizations need to motivate and engage their stakeholders and that gamification is an approach to help meet that need.

I feel that organizations, whether businesses or non-profit institutions such as educational entities, need to look for different ways to motivate employees, boost morale and built learner capacity. All too often the easiest way to do this is by providing large group professional development sessions or purchasing a pre-packaged online module for employees to passively participate in or individually complete. Although these approaches result in organizations and institutions being compliant, these traditional training supports are sub-par given the technology mediated resources available today. Although I believe that a process should not be gamified just because it can be, I do think there are many opportunities in the workplace where gamification would add value to adult learner capacity, organization measures and targets as well as create a more positive and joyful workplace.

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