Culture   //   December 1, 2023

Is gamification the answer to boosting employee engagement?

It’s hard to keep employees engaged, especially when it comes to tasks like annual training or learning dry topics. That’s why more employers are introducing more gamification to the workplace.

Management consultantcy PwC is gamifying its learning experience of AI upskilling efforts through a firmwide, live trivia game. The game blends casual gaming with learning content and real-time game show mechanics. The company has transformed a learning modality that’s normally a solo activity into an extended collaborative group experience – people can play alone or choose to join a larger team and win together.

“Gaming experiences are one way we can get our people to learn something new, while having fun in the process,” said Leah Houde, chief learning officer at PwC. “We’ve realized that success comes down to a few things: sustaining the learning over time, tapping into deeper motivations when possible, and incentivizing our people – which gamification can do.”

More than 10,000 PwC employees have participated in each monthly game which has even led to people getting together in local offices to participate in the live trivia game alongside one another – which creates a domino effect of engagement and connection opportunities. 

We see gamification in our everyday lives: Duolingo, for example, made learning a language into a game, Apple modelled the challenge of “closing your rings” for exercising, Starbucks Rewards allows customers to earn stars for purchases, which can be redeemed for free items or special offers. A recent report projects the gamification market will reach $96.3 billion by 2030, which makes sense in a world with shortened attention spans.

By incorporating game elements – like challenges, rewards, and progress tracking via leaderboards – into workplaces, employee interest is more easily sustained, resulting in more active participation, employers that have tried it have claimed. And gamification makes employees feel more productive (87%), more engaged (84%) and happier at work (82%), per a 2019 survey by cloud learning platform TalentLMS.

PwC’s live trivia game asks employees questions focused on their firmwide strategy and the AI learnings that have been released the month prior. Leveraging principles of gamification, this trivia game allows PwC teams and individual players to earn prizes. 

“Gaming experiences are one way we can get our people to learn something new, while having fun in the process.”
Leah Houde, chief learning officer, PwC.

However, receiving a reward isn’t actually what makes gamification so effective. “It’s not all about reward or recognition; it’s about tapping into what makes people tick. Good learning design – and good game design – can tap into the human need for mastery, independence and connection,” added Houde.

Zander Brimijoin, co-founder and creative director of Red Paper Heart, agrees. “Gamification works with or without prizes. In some cases, prizes could turn it into a more transactional relationship. You would think you would get more engagement, but sometimes it turns to less. Sometimes the main prize being bragging rights is the way to go.”

Red Paper Heart, a digital experience studio, worked with Google Chrome this summer for a gamified experience for attendees of the Bloomberg Technology Summit in NYC. That involved taking the complicated topic of cybersecurity and making it into a game and educational experience. The activation was heavily-trafficked, with 600 games played during the pop-up. 

“With the topic of cybersecurity, people might tune out really quickly,” said Brimijoin. “Gaming provides an invitation for people to engage without feeling like they have a lot of things to learn about. In the process, they end up learning a lot through participation.”

Players had to neutralize as many cybersecurity attacks as they could by pressing on them when they popped up. The message was that cybersecurity threats are on the rise, but it was presented in a disarming way that left people with the understanding that threats are persistent.

“Engagement can really increase with gamification,” said Brimijoin. “It’s the most powerful tool to get people to engage in everything from learning tasks to interacting with each other. It’s a friendly invitation to learn something.”

“It’s the most powerful tool to get people to engage in everything from learning tasks to interacting with each other. It’s a friendly invitation to learn something.”
Zander Brimijoin, co-founder and creative director, Red Paper Heart.

In that case, gamification was useful because cybersecurity is a challenging topic to understand. ELB Learning focuses on leveraging gamification for training content, which more employees dread. It makes something boring, fun. The e-learning provider offers a “Training Arcade,” a DIY gamification authoring tool that includes mobile-ready game templates available for employers to customize with their own training content. The company posits that gamification works because it triggers real, powerful human emotions and creates a learning environment that educates, motivates, celebrates and evaluates employees. ELB Learning works with companies like Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble and Walmart.

“It’s figuring out how to deliver content in a way that’s appealing,” said Stephen Baer, ELB’s chief creative officer. “From a training perspective, how will it require someone to lean in and participate?”

The company’s training arcade sees employees return to games for three to five more plays. That means people are engaging with the content multiple times. With training it can be hard to get someone to do it once, but with gamification, people want to engage and master it. Fun is a major driver of it.

ELB Learning has seen significant adoption within customer service and sales industries. When it comes to sales, Baer says there is an audience there that is highly competitive and likes the game aspect. While rewards aren’t the only driver of why people participate in games, they can help. Baer says he’s seen companies with extraordinary budgets offer rewards that range from iPads to paid vacations. 

But above all, it’s helping people learn. The training arcade, using a sample study of 2,500 games built by subscribers, found that players saw a 58% improvement in knowledge between the first and third attempt at play. “Gamification has a key place at the table,” said Baer. “It’s extra successful with a larger training strategy.”