Can Gamification make work more fun?

I was recently talking with someone about employee gamification. He said he thought that the concept is promising but “You can’t put lipstick on a pig…” Implying that you can’t make work fun just by adding points, badges and awards.

There’s some truth to that over-simplistic statement. But it got me thinking about what ‘fun’ is and whether we can translate fun to the workplace.

Here’s the Google definition of Fun:

Fun: enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure

It sure doesn’t sound like work to me. Especially when I have no personal reasons to do it or I’m doing it for someone else. In that case work becomes an effort to complete. It’s not fun.

Now here’s where it gets a little confusing. There are things that we do that are hard work but we consider to be fun.

  • Running the 10th mile of a half marathon

  • Shooting 100 baskets in a row

  • Playing 18 holes on a blazing 98 degree afternoon

Fun? Not really. But I bet after doing each of those things, you sit back and say: Well, that was fun.  That felt good. And, I’m looking forward to doing it again.

So why do we do it? Because we are on our way to achieving a personal goal. It may be a strectch or a challenge – but it gets us closer to where we want to be. And when we reach that personal goal, it’s a win. And that feels good. So good, in fact, that we want to feel that goodness again. And will work hard to get there again.

So, how does this apply to gamifying work?

Lets be clear: the work is still the work. And it has to get done. And we have to do it to meet the goals of the organization. And we have to do it so that we can pay for the car, the house, the kids’ education, etc.

But through gamification, we can make that work more rewarding. So that the work feels good. And we will want to come back to do it again. And do it better. By doing the following things:

  • Allow employees to see the opportunities where they can win.

  • Show employees the path to the wins. If they cannot see the path to winning a goal, they will not waste their time pursuing it.

  • Tune the award structures so that employees can see personal value in the wins. Different people are motivated by different things – status, growth, convenience

  • Align employees’ personal goals with the corporate goals.

Note that you can do these things without points, levels and awards. But because of the positive association so many people have towards playing games, there’s a higher probability that they will give it a chance.

So, back to the original question: can gamification make work more fun? Can you put lipstick on a pig? The answer is Yes and No. If you are thinking that fun is constrained to leisure time activities, then the answer is No. But if you consider the good, hard, productive work that results in accomplishments and progress towards a goal, then Yes, gamification can definitely make work more fun.

Stuart Silverman

About The Author

Stuart Silverman has designed, installed and marketed the full spectrum of systems used to provide competitive edge for retail organizations.

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