Updated: Apr 30
I’m about to say the most obvious sentence of all time, but stay with me: Games are fun. People love games. We use them to learn as children, to pass the time and to help us bond with our peers as adults, and as a way to make boring activities more interesting. Humanity has been playing games since 3100 B.C. Today, games are a multibillion-dollar industry, both on and off the computer. Check the news any given week, and you’ll see stories about people becoming addicted to them, even as the debate of including gaming addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders rages on. With so many small businesses struggling with employee retention, engagement, and work satisfaction, doesn’t it make sense to take lessons from games to make work more fun? I believe that your company could get a boost from gamification. In fact, everything at your small business could.
Why gamification works so well
Gamification is the process of making an educational or work activity more like a game by finding ways to make it more entertaining and rewarding. Gamified elements are typically visually engaging and offer points, rewards, and prizes based on performance and completion.
Maybe you’re wondering why bother? Work isn’t a game, after all. Work might not be a game, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from gaming and its benefits. Merriam-Webster defines gamification as, “The process of adding games or gamelike elements to something (such as a task) so as to encourage participation.” The benefits of gamification at work are found in the very reasons games are so fun and in that rush we feel when we succeed. Whenever you earn a high score or unlock an achievement, your brain releases a rush of dopamine (a hormone that makes you feel good). If you produce dopamine whenever you succeed at a task, your brain will associate winning, achievement, and triumph at work with positive feelings. Video games in particular are especially tuned to make your brain release dopamine. They show you progress bars and levels, high score charts, and rare achievements to unlock. They throw challenges in your way—such as puzzles and fights—but those difficulties are themselves fun and make the winning feel even better. By adding in things like fun badges, clear visual progress trackers, and avatar creation, gamification can make work feel less boring, more engaging, and more rewarding. Challenges, high scores, and in-game rewards increase employee engagement and retention, and studies show that gamification does quite well where it’s applied.
What gamification at work looks like
Many companies are already experimenting with gamification elements at their businesses, often in the form of assigning points to work-related tasks. As they complete tasks, employees fill progress bars and reach new levels. They can also earn badges to display how well they’re performing, or move up a leaderboard of their peers.
Gamification has also been used in training software, in which points are assigned for completing lessons and scoring well on tests. Gamification can even be found in the talent recruitment process. In 2011 Marriott hotels created a Facebook game in which players managed a hotel and used it to identify potential talent to fill positions at their U.S. locations.
What we could see soon
So, if games are addictive and engaging and companies are seeing gamification success, why don’t we gamify everything? Obviously, you can’t make work one big collaborative video game and expect anything to get done. But you can take the elements that make games so engaging and get creative in your application of those elements. It can be easier to implement gamification with numbers-focused work. At call centers, for example, where the number of calls or conversions can be tracked or on sales teams where success can be easily measured, it’s fairly simple to assign points and levels to certain tasks and benchmarks. But what about creative work? How can you gamify a job that involves research and writing? By finding some trackable element of the end product. It could be the number of views published articles get or the social media share count. Track those elements using software, turn goals into levels, use a colorful tracker bar to monitor progress, and send pop-up notifications when employees reach a new level. You’re gamified! Accounting job? Track how much money employees save the company. Tech support? Track how many problems were fixed in a week. Chief happiness officer? Survey employees on their satisfaction levels, and track the results. You can’t turn projects into quests, but you can wrap them in colorful interfaces and make completion feel more rewarding in real time. It doesn’t detract from the work itself, so there’s little reason not to gamify your work.