How Gamification Enhances Productivity in the Workplace

It strengthens company culture and overall productivity

Gamification applies the same kind of motivational techniques found in games towards an existing business process. Getty Images
Headshot of Molly St. Louis

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game!”

Wise words uttered by none other than Mary Poppins, the mack-mommy of gamification. The super nanny blew our minds when she took the arduous task of cleaning a dirty playroom and made it fun for everyone by making it a game.

While regular human beings don’t possess Poppins-like magical powers (yet), business leaders have proven that gamifying their processes not only boosts morale, but also strengthens company culture and overall productivity.

The notion of “gamification” of the workplace became popular around 2013 when thought leaders began to see the impact games had on our society.

“Early on, I realized that games were virtually everywhere,” said Adam Penenberg, author of Play at Work: How Games Inspire Breakthrough Thinking. “Airline frequent-flier miles are games that reward loyalty … You could look at Twitter as a game, the pay off being more and more followers and greater numbers of retweets the more you use it.”

But beyond the obvious fact that playing games is fun, what is it that makes gamification so effective in enhancing our productivity?

Well, games are designed with the human brain in mind, so every time you score a point, beat an opponent, or crack a code, the reward center in your brain lights up. A neurotransmitter called dopamine is activated in your brain whenever you achieve something positive. Kind of like a feel-good drug, racking up a score on a video game gives your brain a boost of dopamine and keeps you coming back for more, getting more done and being more productive.

Now, contrary to popular belief, gamification isn’t just about creating games for business purposes—it’s about applying these same kind of motivational techniques found in popular games towards an existing business process. For example, according to Penenberg, Microsoft was an early adopter of gamification, taking the not-so-awesome task of debugging the system and turning it into a contest in which employees compete to find the most glitches in less time.

Today, gamification has become more widespread and folks are getting innovative with their tactics using some surprising technologies.

Impactful learning

If you thought Mary Poppins was ahead of her time, she had nothing on Spanish teacher and Schoology ambassador, Glen Irvin, who uses Minecraft to help his students ace a new language.

Using the online game, students design their own realms and then jump online to play with other students … but here’s the hitch: all communication must be done in Spanish. So naturally, in order to succeed at the game, you better get pretty darn good with your language skills.

Surprise, surprise, student engagement levels are up, with 100 percent completion rates. But even more impactful is that 90 percent of students that have participated in his game-based learning units are consistently scoring at least one level higher, according to the ACTFL Performance Indicators for Language Learners.

Moreover, students who completed the game-based learning units are more likely (80 percent) to take another year of Spanish, either at high school level or university level, than their traditional assignment peers at just 40 percent.

And if Irvin can motivate high school kids to learn better, just imagine how gamification can be used in employee training.

Getting your networking game on

The benefits of gamification even extend to networking events and contact building, with wearable technology taking the lead. Badge-style wearables for event attendees engineered by companies like Klik, have unlocked a range of new interactions, from booth visiting to session attendance. Their location-centric features encourage better networking by essentially gamifying expo-floors.

Brent Turner, svp of solutions for Cramer, says, “with this type of wearable technology, you can “like” (or check-in) to specific locations, and create point scales and reward systems that gamify nearly all aspects of a live experience.”

This leads to a much more productive outcome from events and trade shows, ensuring that attendees actually take in all the key points they’re meant to and make as many meaningful contacts as possible, rather than just hanging out in the lobby.

“Furthermore,” says Turner, “each action can be assigned points, with different actions worth more than others, and more points can be unlocked by accomplishing specific actions.”

Gamification can be tailored to the type of actions that are more valuable to a given business. “In a sales meeting, for example, there may be greater value in learning and exploration—so we give more points for attending sessions, taking quizzes, and visiting expo booths,” says Turner. “For a user conference where community building is valuable, there may be greater value in networking and meeting new people. So, in both cases, we would weigh the points to the specific actions we are trying to drive.”

Gamification is not just the “spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down,” it allows leaders to clearly show their team what their objectives are, leading to the desired result.

Meaningful rewards               

Cryptocurrency has swept the nation as of late and as it turns out, it makes for great gamification rewards. Nicholas Kinports, founder of Notice, talked to his team members and found out that many of them had an interest in acquiring some crypto … so naturally, he used it to motivate them.

In the agency world, meeting deadlines is crucial and always tough to manage. So, Kinports incentivizes his team to meet their deadlines (among other things) by delivering “micro-bonuses” of Ethereum.

“We have written a small amount of code, called a Smart Contract, that transfers a small amount of the popular cryptocurrency, Ethereum, into the personal account (called a wallet) of employees associated with a project when certain conditions are verified as met in our project management system,” says Kinports. “It’s a super simple execution once you know how to work with this stuff, and it’s amazing how motivated teams have become.”

Whether you use gamification to stimulate learning, encourage better networking, or simply incentivize your team using rewards like crypto bonuses, you have to admit, it’s pretty cool. And the main point is that it drives participation. So, while collecting points and competing on leaderboards might have sounded a little tedious once, they’re actually the perfect way of stepping up your game—and make sure everyone’s playing.

@MollStLouis Molly St. Louis is a freelance writer for Adweek.