Gamification vs. Incentives and Recognition


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Call me a curmudgeon, but I have a hard time getting behind “gamification” in the workplace.

For those not familiar with gamification, it basically means using the principles of video game mechanics in a real-life situation, like a call center, to motivate people and change their behavior. Gamification, as a buzzword, has been around long enough to develop both hype and backlash.

My problem is that, at its core, gamification in the workplace is really nothing more (or less) than the systematic use of employee recognition, rewards, and achievement as a way to motivate employees. But people have been doing that for as long as there have been workplaces. So the “new” thing in gamification is just the idea of being deliberate and systematic about employee motivation.

But by calling it “gamification” instead of (for example) “employee recognition program,” you’re implying that a cleverly-crafted set of achievements can somehow transform a dreary workplace into something fun like Mario Cart. At the end of the day, though, a boring job will still be a boring job.

It can also be insulting if done wrong, implying that handing out meaningless “achievements” is just as good as giving employees raises or bonuses.

So while I’m all on board for the idea of rewarding and recognizing employees, and I think the game industry may have a few things to teach us about what motivates people, can we please stop pretending that work, for most people, is anything other than work?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Peter Leppik
Peter U. Leppik is president and CEO of Vocalabs. He founded Vocal Laboratories Inc. in 2001 to apply scientific principles of data collection and analysis to the problem of improving customer service. Leppik has led efforts to measure, compare and publish customer service quality through third party, independent research. At Vocalabs, Leppik has assembled a team of professionals with deep expertise in survey methodology, data communications and data visualization to provide clients with best-in-class tools for improving customer service through real-time customer feedback.


  1. Peter, I’m with you in curmudgeon-ville. While there are some interesting applications for gamification (on-boarding, learning new software), I think much of this is old wine in new bottle. That bottle being tech vendors selling software to “gamify” processes.

    There’s nothing wrong with adding a little fun factor into tasks. Points and badges can help I suppose. But when the discussion turns to the actual jobs people do, I struggle to find the new news in gamification. Actually, I think companies could do more harm than good by trying to gamify professional jobs, which could de-motivate people already committed to doing good work.

    Here’s an interview I did a couple of years ago that might be of interest to you and others: How Gamification Can Accelerate Service Agent Training.

  2. Agree with the overall spirit of your post; however, if gamification is applied to employee initiatives with some sensitivity, it can be successful as a motivational tool. There are reports indicating that companies using newer, more focused techniques have achieved excellent, lasting results. Much of what I observed with customer gamification trends in a post from over the Summer can be extrapolated to employees, particularly those in front-tine customer contact positions, where the stress level and percentage of turnover is highest:

  3. Gamification is far more than points, badges and leaderboards or video game mechanics and much more about the systematic deployment of intrinsic motivators throughout an organization that create opportunities for self-directed motivation in pursuit of corporate objectives.

    By your definition, I can see how you’d get better results by calling it an “employee recognition program”, but pursued more thoughtfully, the rewards are far greater for an organization than it gets from handing out gold stars at a company meeting.


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