March 6, 2024

Gamification In The Workplace? How, Why And Cultural Wins

By Monika Mueller

Softensity’s EVP Consulting Services and Head of LATAM Monika Mueller is a Forbes Technology Council member, and this article originally appeared on

Employee engagement and retention are hot topics, especially as the debate over remote work versus return-to-office mandates heats up. What if there was a solution that could engage employees, improve retention and increase productivity, no matter where your employees work? It’s time to shed some fresh light on gamification in the workplace.

What is gamification?

While gamification is not a new concept, today’s advanced technology makes it a lot easier to accomplish. And no, it has nothing to do with video games. It’s essentially setting up a reward system (points, badges, leaderboards) to encourage employees to achieve specific goals. For example, one company discovered that there was a direct correlation between the cost of the company’s healthcare premiums and how frequently the benefits were used—the more use, the lower the premium.

The company implemented fun fitness-driven programs and competitions not only to improve employee health but also to decrease its healthcare costs. Employees enthusiastically competed in challenges and contests, such as counting steps.

Quality prizes and meaningful rewards heated up the competition and drove participation. Points could be redeemed for prizes that included everything from Air Jordans and iPhones to Lululemon apparel and gym memberships. Equally popular were options for an extra day of PTO or lunch with the CEO. Water bottles and company logo swag would not have worked as well.

Take a strategic approach

So, where should an organization start? Your gamification strategy should be tied directly to the company’s values, culture and goals. And while different departments may have different goals and varied “games” designed to achieve them, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. For the most far-reaching benefits, there should be a layer of gamification that spans all departments and brings the company together as a whole—like the challenges detailed above.

At the same time, department leaders should also think about their team’s specific goals, pain points and objectives. This could be anything from improving productivity to increasing engagement or retaining top employees.

Set objectives and goals

The key to success is to define your objectives and set clear goals, which starts with identifying a team’s pain points. Maybe employees aren’t completing training, there’s a dip in productivity or the quality of work isn’t where it should be. These are all issues you can tackle through gamification.

Once your gamification strategies are aligned to solve the pain points you’ve identified, you’ll be able to articulate exactly how it can directly benefit your business. Consider what success will look like. Is the ultimate goal to increase sales? To improve code quality? Be as clear and specific as possible.

Let’s say you want to improve code quality. You could set up a leaderboard for your software development team, where developers earn points for writing efficient code free of defects. The better the code, the more points they’ll earn—and the higher on the leaderboard they’ll go.

You could also take the opposite approach. At one company, there was a notorious “Break the Code” shirt that was never washed. If a developer deployed a feature that broke the code and brought the program to a halt, they’d have to wear the dirty shirt for the rest of the day. And to be honest, it worked. You better believe developers started to double- and triple-check their coÍÍde before deployment.

Understand your audience

Clearly, something like a “Break the Code” shirt won’t work for every audience. And if you have a more mature, less tech-savvy employee base, tech-enabled gamification may not be the best approach. On the flip side, younger employees will fully expect a technology element.

Don’t make predisposed judgments without taking the step to fully consider your employee demographics. The same goes for understanding your employees’ motivation. Just because you’re excited about something doesn’t mean your employees will be. A quick motivation analysis can set you up for success and help you avoid any misfires.

Some people may be motivated by the competition alone, while others will crave recognition. And plenty will respond to monetary rewards like gift cards. But you won’t know until you ask. Once you know what drives a team, you can choose the gamification elements (leaderboards vs. badges, type of rewards, etc.) that best align with the majority.

Design the gamification strategy

For the best results, it’s important to maintain a balance between competition, collaboration and keeping it fun. This is not an opportunity to pit employees against each other in a cutthroat competition. Equally important is to make sure that the system you put into place is inclusive, accessible and fair to everyone in your organization.

To maximize participation, make sure your gamification strategy is well integrated into existing workflows. You don’t want to throw in a totally separate process that could cause stress or confusion. Using a gamification platform is a streamlined way to go, whether you acquire one from a vendor (there are plenty out there) or build your own. Either way, make sure the platform can be well integrated and is capable of growing and evolving with your organization.

Monitor, measure and iterate

Ideally, you’ll want to start with a pilot program in a specific department or team before going all in across the organization. Then, establish a feedback loop. What’s working? What’s not? How are participation levels? Are your objectives being met? Fine-tune the program before expanding it based on data analysis and solicited feedback.

Keep in mind: One competition does not a gamification strategy make. It should be a regular part of day-to-day employment directly tied to company goals. For gamification to work, fostering an ongoing culture of recognition is key. Think prominent leaderboards, public acknowledgment and regular celebrations. To truly impact your organization on a cultural level and make meaningful change, celebrating success together as a company is essential.


Let’s Talk