5 Gamification Tactics That Excite Employees and Boost Engagement

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Imagine you’re at work, finishing up a task you do everyday, when your manager hands you a badge.

How would you feel? Would that badge make you feel more motivated to do your job?

Probably not.

In fact, you’d likely feel weirded out.

Adding gamification tactics to your training haphazardly has a similar effect. If you don’t know why these tactics motivate employees, you can’t expect them to work.

To drive engagement, you first need to understand how gamification elements motivate employees.  

Let’s start by looking at 5 common gamification tactics and the best practices for implementing them.

1. Ratings and Scores

Ratings and scores appeal to our desire to improve. This makes them excellent tactics for driving repeat engagement. People will replay to the point of mastery just to get 5 stars.

When implementing ratings you need to be careful about how hard it is to initially get a perfect score. If it's too difficult at the start, people will get frustrated and give up. If it's too easy, people will feel they “already know this stuff” and won't keep playing. You need to gradually increase the difficulty to keep your audience engaged.

2. Badges and Trophies

As humans, we like to collect things. Finishing a collection gives us a strong sense of accomplishment. That’s why badges and trophies can be such strong motivators; we are compelled to earn them in order to complete our badge collection.

You’ll often see this happen in video games, with players re-playing games in order to earn the various badges. In training, you can use badges or trophies as rewards for specific activities, and to prompt engagement in new challenges.

If your target audience doesn’t care about earning them, they won’t keep playing.

So, what makes a badge valuable? It’s actually not about the badge at all, but what it stands for.

Badges and trophies are signs of prestige. They’re a status symbol of achieving something difficult. So they can’t be awarded for activities that are easy to complete.

There’s no satisfaction in earning a badge for something that wasn’t challenging, or one that everyone else has. The value of a badge as a status symbol drops the easier it is to earn and the more people achieve it.

Keep this in mind when coming up with badges for your training program.  Make sure you include at least a few badges that will be challenging to earn.

3. Progress

Progress indicators, like levels, also tap into our completion instincts.

They show how close we are to completing a section, making it harder to stop playing. This makes them excellent tactics for keeping employees engaged.

But for progress indicators to work, you need to reward users when they reach each new threshold.

But if nothing happens, there’s no reward for levelling up — and they won’t keep playing.

You need to make sure something changes when each level is reached. Maybe new courses are unlocked. Maybe the look of their avatar changes. Maybe there’s a fun animation that appears on screen.

The more things that happen when a user levels up, the more motivational it will be to keep playing.

4. Competition

Competition is a common strategy used to fuel engagement in training programs. It motivates employees to keep engaging in order to earn bragging rights over their peers.

Leaderboards are often used to create competition, but you need to consider the your employees’ work environment.

Sales staff tend to respond well to individual competition because they’re evaluated that way. But not every workforce will find individual leaderboards motivating. Some employees might even find it intimidating to compete against their peers. In these cases you might want to consider a team leaderboard. This can inspire both competition against other teams, and collaboration amongst team members.

5. Narrative

Driving long term engagement requires tactics beyond leaderboards and badges. One of the most effective of these is storytelling.

They appeal to learner’s emotions and immerse them in the training.

However, narrative can also be challenging to get right. Cheesy narratives can do a lot of harm. They can alienate your employees and even disengage them from training.

To get employees to engage, you have to tailor your stories for them. They need to immediately buy into the narrative for it to work.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is with narratives that are relevant to your organization. For example, if you are a bank, have a narrative that challenges employees to build a banking empire.

The Bottom Line

To make training enjoyable and engaging, you have to approach gamification as a strategy. You can’t just add game tactics haphazardly.

Ask yourself: if I was taking this training, would these tactics motivate me to keep going? Would I care?

Remember — there’s nothing inherently fun about game tactics. It’s how those elements are used that makes or breaks your training.