Gamified Training in the Workplace: a Game Changer

Distractions are everywhere and, of course, workplaces are no exception. But companies now have a precious ally to foster employees’ engagement and emotional involvement in what they are doing thanks to the “games strategy”, a key instrument in companies’ hands.

Illustration by Agata Karelus, Warsaw, Poland

The corporate workplace can be a harsh place. Often employees only do the bare minimum to survive through the dreadful week of deliverables and reports so they can finally enjoy the weekend. In most work environments, there is hardly any incentive for employees to work harder or learn new skills beyond what it takes to keep their paychecks. As a result, employees often only work hard enough to not lose their jobs. If you knew you could improve productivity just by making work more engaging and motivating, would you do it? Of course you would. What if I told you this would require your employees to “play” at work?

Developing competence, or “learning”  in other words, is one of three innate human needs (the others being autonomy and social relatedness). This “intrinsic motivation” for learning is what makes humans curious and want to develop new skills. However, conventional educational and training systems damage our intrinsic motivation to learn because of their overbearing need for common extrinsic motivators such as scores. This is where a gamified workplace can motivate employees to have fun while maximizing their learning and retention.

Human-focused design focuses on optimizing for human motivations and feelings as opposed to “function-focused design” which optimizes for efficiency and output. Gamification is the best example of human-focused design because games was the first industry to master intrinsic motivation design. Games have no other purpose than to please the individual playing them. You have to do your taxes, go to work and finish your projects, but you never have to play a game. And so gamification takes the fun and engaging elements found in games and applies them to real-world productive activities to improve and optimize, among many other applications, education, engagement, and productivity in the workplace.

Many still believe that there is a lot of intrinsic motivation in current corporate training and education programs. However, if that were the case, employees would feel extremely excited about evaluations because they would be new opportunities to feel developed and accomplished! Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As mentioned above, the modern training challenge involves engaging employees, stimulating their interests, retaining their attention and maintaining a positive attitude in a nurturing environment. Key to these goals is the effort to develop a rich environment that encourages feedback and reinforcement, not only between the training environment and employees, but also between the employees themselves.  These socially interactive mechanisms, with the proper level of control for encouragement and discipline, can be designed in effective ways to create “fun” learning situations. 

One great example of gamified corporate training is done by Morf Media. Morf Media sets out to gamify various legal training activities for financial institutions. As imagined, this material is extremely dull, yet important. Adhering to the intrinsic motivations explained in the article, Morf Media created an immersive platform where the employee becomes a rising star in a simulated company by learning critical real-world information through interactive on-boarding tutorials that utilize their creativity. It is this type of game-play that ensures employees accumulate competitive skills and stay engaged in the workplace.

If we successfully gamify education and training, then “assessments” will be seen as an exciting opportunity for employees to unlock new materials and skill-sets instead of just being a distraction from their work. Not only will training be more fun, engaging and interactive, it will also prepare our firms for a new economy where creativity and problem solving will become the competitive advantage over simple factual knowledge.

Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Spring 2014