Using Gamification to Boost Employee Engagement

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Regardless of whether a company produces goods or services, or whether those products are tangible or electronic, or whether the company is small or large; all companies re-invest in themselves to grow.  Companies buy freight, equipment, vehicles and electronic gear to invest in the infrastructure that keeps their productivity high.

But imagine the response of management if a company’s latest investment was a 70% failure.  If a manufacturer bought capital equipment that failed 70% of the time, or a web-based company deployed an app that failed at that same rate, the results would be disastrous. 

Yet, when it comes to employee engagement, 70% of employees feel disengaged at work.  And this disengagement leads to low retention, lower productivity, faster burnout, and human error.  As a result, many companies lose as much through a lack of engagement of their employees as they would with a failed investment initiative.  There are estimates that put business loss due to a lack of employee engagement as high as $550 billion annually.

A New Way to Engage

Today, corporate leadership is beginning to realize that employee engagement is an investment with high-profit value on par with capital equipment and IT infrastructure.  And as they do, they are increasingly turning to gamification to boost employee engagement. 

But what is gamification?  Gamification is the outgrowth of today’s video, social and wearable game culture where games are designed to trigger human reward centers.  These games have a powerful effect on users with some studies showing that they can even improve cognitive performance.

By re-tasking this technology from purely a leisure function and redesigning it in line with a company’s values, culture, and training, gamification taps into an employee’s psychological behavior governing day to day decision-making.  As a result, gamification is proving to be a valuable tool for engagement for several reasons:

·      It motivates the user. By providing them a chance to win rewards or recognition, users are driven to use the system.

·      It provides the user with achievable tasks.  Like a video game with “levels”, tasks are broken into segments that increase the user’s capability.

·      It triggers a user to continue to completion.

Statistics have shown that engaged workers are 21% more productive and their companies 22% more profitable. Engagement also extends to other areas as well with significant reductions in absenteeism, safety incidents, turnover, and quality fallout.  And when gamification is tied to training, onboarding, employee evaluation, and company culture, it is becoming increasingly apparent that it is a tool that can be used successfully to reverse the engagement drain. 

Applying Gamification to Your Company

Another aspect of gamification within the workplace is that it is versatile enough to be used for more than one thing.  Here are several ways to use gamification in the workplace

1.     New Employee Onboarding -   According to SHRM, the cost of hiring a new employee can exceed $4,000.  But this may not capture all the costs as other information indicates that it can take as long as 8 months after onboarding for a new employee to become fully productive.  By introducing gamification to the new employee onboarding process, companies can reduce that curve and bring the employee up to speed and full productivity faster, saving the company a significant amount of money.  The cost can be lowered, and staff trained faster through developing “mini-games” that reward achievement upon mastery.  By making the new employee training fun through gamification, employees are more motivated to stay and to spread that culture of fun and achievement in their new department.

2.     Continued Training and Development – Just as new employees can be helped to shorten their learning curve, established employees can benefit from gamification that ties the games to leadership development and continuing education.  Deloitte introduced gamification to its leadership academy designed to improve skills and educate existing employees.  This resulted in a 37% increase in users returning to the site to complete training.  And to help technicians and sales associates become experts on the models they sold and serviced, Ford Motor Company implemented gamification that resulted in a 417% increase in use among system users that correlated with increased sales and service.

3.     Employee Evaluation – The yearly “performance review” in many companies is fraught with anxiety on the part of both employers and employees.  Boiling down the performance of an entire year to a single form and a half-hour of discussion is an inefficient, and probably ineffective, way to evaluate employees.  But through gamification, games, and challenges can be designed that are position or employee-specific to allow continuous monitoring of an employee’s performance and skills.  Both the manager and the employee can know at any time how they are performing based on benchmarking, goals, or whatever criteria are designed to gauge performance results.  Rather than a yearly drill down, job performance is known on a continuous, real-time basis.

4.     Employee Communication – Many companies do not do as well a job communicating as they would like.  While this can be an intrinsic culture issue, it can also be due to staff being remote or far-flung within a specific location.  Managers and employees may have too much ground to cover or may not be physically located together to facilitate effective communication.  By using gamification, workstations and other input devices can be gamified to make the task fun while assuring them that the manager will see or be notified of the success through their increased “levels”.  This real-time feedback can make the face to face communication that does occur more productive because they now have tangible, fun and interactive ways to know what was achieved and what they need to discuss.

The Path to Gamification

Today, approximately 40% of companies use gamification as a primary means of increasing engagement.  And companies that have yet to go down the path or engaging or re-engaging their employees can follow a few steps to get there:

·      Set goals based on what the company needs to improve.  This may be training, onboarding, communication, performance or all the above.  Clearly defining the goals will keep the system relevant to the company.

·      Design the game elements to fit existing processes.  This can be productivity, cost-cutting, CRM or any other value area of the operation.  By using existing processes, those processes are reinforced among staff.

·      Assess employee engagement before introducing game elements.  Employees may be disengaged for different reasons.  Only an honest assessment of the “pulse” impacting engagement can reveal what area to address with game elements.  It does no good to focus on pay when staff is disengaged primarily because of work/life balance or a perceived lack of communication.

·      Stay the Course – Even games played for pure leisure take time to master.  Company leaders should assume that will be the reality in gamification of their workplace as well and one that will play out in their culture over time.


Gamification offers companies a chance to turn the engagement crisis around and to do so in an imaginative and fun way.  It can be deployed over a large array of company issues and culture, with each contributing to engagement in its own way.  With those things in mind, managers and stakeholders can be sure to realize a greater return on their biggest investment – their people.


Learn more about Five to Nine and how our platform can boost your employee engagement journey.

Pedro Suarez