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How to Motivate Employee Performance With Gamification

Quick! When was the last time you tried to motivate your employees?

If you winced and instantly tried to distract yourself with some junk food, that’s okay. Employee motivation (and its weird cousin, employee incentivization), is a critical component of any workplace – and sadly one that is often ignored. We can sort of understand why; if the work is basically getting done, why spend time and energy and money trying to motivate people to work harder? Maybe you throw a bonus at them now and then. That’s enough, right?

No. No, it is not enough. We felt that so strongly, we even made it boldface.

But have no fear, friends. Today, we’re taking back motivation and incentivization. Or at least demystifying them enough for you to realize, “Huh, I should focus on them more.”

Now, our favorite way to motivate or incentivize people is—wait for it—through gamification. This probably comes as no surprise to you. We even wrote a book about gamification. But we still get a lot of questions about what gamification is and how it’s connected to motivation, so we collected some of the most frequent ones below.

Do my employees need more motivation?

Probably. Definitely.

We’d argue that everyone benefits from a treat to work towards, but take a look at your employees. Do they seem bored? Frustrated? Are they hampered by poor communication and lack of progress?

If you said yes to any of those, then you have two problems:

  1. Your employees probably aren’t terribly engaged, and

  2. You’re losing money

Disengaged employees don’t perform up to their full potential. Studies centered around Gen-Z and millennials (the two youngest generations in the workplace) have indicated that if these folks don’t feel motivated, or at least think the company has their best interests at heart, then they aren’t going to deliver their best work.

If you need a monetary value to be convinced, it’s been theorized that disengaged employees can cost up to 34 percent of every $10,000 they earn. Now multiply that out across various salaries and multiple employees.

Oof, right?

Using gamification to incentivize your employees can turn those unsettling numbers around and—more importantly—make your staffers feel like they’re in a good place again.

This is because gamification helps you emphasize the kinds of behaviors and processes you want to see.


We’re getting to that...

How do you gamify the workplace, anyway?

So let’s get one thing out of the way. If you are new to us and new to our blog, please understand that gamification does not mean “Let my employees play Angry Birds all day.”

When you introduce gamification as a way to boost employee performance, you’re encouraging certain behaviors. The following four bullets are some of the most prominent behaviors gamification can trigger:

  • Desire to collaborate Do you want your people siloed from each other? Probably not. Collaboration is the literal meeting of the minds; you want your staff reaching out to one another, bouncing around ideas, creating awesome projects. A cool side benefit of collaboration, by the way, is that it often leads to building empathy – more critical than ever in today’s world.

  • Need for engagement If your employees are bored, odds are their attention is wandering. The more engaged they are, the more they’ll focus on a task at hand.

  • Friendly competition Please notice the stress we put on friendly. If your people are cheerfully trying to one-up each other in performance, the product will usually benefit.

  • Sense of achievement There’s nothing quite as warm and fuzzy as the feeling that you’ve really accomplished something great. In video games, it might be finally triumphing over the boss. At work, it might be putting the finishing touches on that one campaign you’ve worked on for over a year.

If all (or the majority) of your employees display these four behaviors, then you’ve likely got a functioning, thoughtful workplace where people feel empowered to speak up, try new things, and do their best.

When you gamify the workplace, you bring gaming practices to it without necessarily turning it into a game. Think earning points, “leveling up,” or winning prizes. They’re all cool perks of video games that also happen to be things people enjoy doing in real life.

Doesn’t gamification require rewards?

One of the primary reasons gamification works so well is because it offers rewards. There’s something in it for the player.

Now, these rewards come in many shapes and forms; they can range from the sheer sense of satisfaction one gets from completing a task to an actual, tangible prize they obtain.

Our own reward system philosophy is kind of a pyramid structure:

  • Intrinsic The employee wants to do this or that purely because they’ll either enjoy it or learn from it. They’re not expecting or needing any form of physical reward.

  • Extrinsic This is a tangible reward. Sometimes it’s money, sometimes PTO, sometimes a get the idea.

  • Epic An epic reward is an extrinsic reward with superpowers. It’s exceedingly rare, right up there with finding Alakazam. If an extrinsic reward is lunch, then an epic reward might be lunch with a VP.

A diagram of the three types of rewards: intrinsic, extrinsic and epic.
The three types of rewards: intrinsic, extrinsic and epic.

What departments can benefit from gamification?

A word of caution here: If you want to incentivize your employees through gamification, make darn sure those employees are going to respond to the tactics you deploy. For today’s post, though, we’re going to use the sales department as our guinea pig.

Why? Well, for starters, your sales team is often the first interaction potential customers have with your company, which means they don’t have any room for bad days or disengagement. We also remember a SalesForce survey from a while back that shows us how adding gamification to sales could yield up to a 50% increase in measured sales performance. That’s a massive increase.

So, let’s consider your average salesperson. They tend to be more competitive by nature. Gamification lends itself to friendly competition. Gamifying the sales department seems like a match made in heaven.

Here are a few tricks:

  • Track sales Whether your salesfolk are operating as individuals or broken into teams, you can easily set up a leaderboard that shows who’s leading the pack.

  • Show the work There’s a lot that goes into sales that you don’t see – the hours spent prospecting, the phone calls, the meetings, the emails (oh, the emails). These are all trackable with modern tech, and when broken out into their separate categories, they’re a great way to show the rest of the company how much work goes into even one good prospect.

  • Set up brackets Develop levels; say your junior salespeople are Pirates, while your seniors might be Ninjas. When a person or team “levels up” into another bracket, they get a badge (real or digital) and get to add a cool name to their signature and/or the company’s internal chat.

What other departments benefit from incentivizing employee performance?

Like we mentioned, you can use gamification to motivate just about every department, and even during onboarding.

Let’s take your customer service team. How many clients do they help on a daily basis? You can turn to leaderboards again, displaying how many customers a rep or team has solved in a day, with monthly leaders receiving some sort of prize. Did a customer send an email thanking a particular rep? Bonus points for that lucky soul!

Here’s a real-life example for you. FedEx wanted to strengthen their overall customer service and came to us for assistance in building soft skills—namely the empathy you need to create a wonderful customer service experience. We asked them to think about what kind of interactions they remember—what made them great, or terrible—and followed that up with interactive games and infographics.

By reflecting on their own experiences and understanding their own values and triggers, they were able to develop and maintain empathy for their potential (and later on, their real) customers.

6 best practices for boosting employee performance

It should come as no surprise that we love gamification, but please, heed this warning: Gamification, like any great power, can be used for good or evil.

We’ve discussed the good perks above. There are potential drawbacks. For example, if you end up adding competition to a program where employees are not motivated by competition, or are even actively repelled by it, you’ll end up with demotivated teams at best, and dysfunctional ones at worst.

Here are several tips we keep in mind when designing gamification programs for our clients (and ourselves!).

  • Know your audience Remember what we just said about potentially adding competition to programs that won’t benefit? Look at your employees. Who are they? What kind of programs or initiatives are they going to respond most to?

Pro Tip: Good leadership often means good listening. Find out what really appeals to your employees before making any plans.
  • Pace your reward system A quick early win is often key to getting an employee on board with a new strategy. They’ll feel both accomplished and like they can take on anything else you throw at them. But that’s the only “quick” win they get—if you stack them too closely together, these wins lose their meaning; if they’re too far apart, employees tend to lose hope of progressing. Both are major demotivators. Reaching additional levels should require effort, but also be attainable.

  • Timing is crucial Don’t try to cram all of your important training into one day. That’s a quick way to overload your employees, whether they’re new or senior. But at the same time, stretching training out for weeks and months when you don’t need to is going to lead to fatigue and irritation. There’s a timescale for everything; figure out yours.

  • Measure participation How are people doing? Tracking progress helps individuals see where they are in relation to their peers, as well as how they can improve.

  • Incorporate meaningful rewards Yes, money is nice. But it’s also easy. While appreciated, is it going to mean something to your employees? Consider personalizing the reward structure. For example, if your customer service team eats so much chocolate they’ve funded the vacations of their dentists, you might reward them with a monthly artisanal chocolate delivery.

  • Understand it’s not a cure-all Gamification does its best work when it’s emphasizing behaviors you want to see. Encouraging those behaviors can discourage the ones you don’t want to see...but if you have deep-rooted communication and/or respect problems in your workplace, gamification alone won’t fix things. That requires a top-down commitment to making improvements; gamification will only be a part.

How can I help my workplace level up?

By now, we hope it’s clear that gamification can help you keep your employees motivated and eager to tackle that next big (or small) project.

If you want to put gamification to work for your company, you don’t have to do it alone. We’re good at it. Like, really good at it. Get in touch with us today and let us help you level up!


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