Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Gamification and work motivation

Gamification and work motivation:
How can gamification enhance work motivation?


Have you ever found yourself engaging in a McDonald's Monopoly game[add explanatory link] not because you feel like eating a hamburger, but rather to collect the instant win and property tickets? Or, have you ever been compelled to quickly squeeze in a walk around the office because your Apple Watch has notified you to stand up? Both of these scenarios are gamified experiences aimed to engage their target user to complete a desired behaviour. Elements of gamification are present in many everyday tasks and activities perhaps without a person realising that the experience they are participating in is gamification.

Gamification can be applied to workplaces to encourage employee motivation. This chapter explores the theories of motivation that are applied to gamification. By understanding what drives behaviour a workplace can increase employee wellbeing and performance. The theory of gamification will be explored including the game mechanics and dynamics that are use to create gameplay. Several case studies are presented to demonstrate how prevalent gamification is in marketing and learning. By the end of this chapter perhaps you will be ready to gamify your workplace to evoke behaviour change.

Focus questions:

  • What is gamification?
  • How can you apply gamification to the workplace?
  • What are the benefits of gamification?

What is gamification?Edit

Gamification is a relatively new part of behavioural psychology, particularly with its application to various fields. Gamification can be difficult to define as it covers a broad range of experiences, activities and principles; however simply, it is the aim to motivate and reward behaviour through the application of game theory (Oberprieler & Leonard, 2015). Gamification can be conceptualised as a three part model. The first part being the implemented motivational affordances, secondly the resulting psychological outcomes and finally the behavioural outcomes (Hamari et al., 2014)[grammar?].

Motivation > Psychological outcomes > Behavioural outcomes [explain?]

This process is enhanced through gameplay, meaning that gamification can be thought of as fun and engaging. Gamification can be conceptualised as a continuum of playfulness (Lucero et al., 2014). When people hear the words gamification, gameplay or game theory they can jump to conclusions visualising a physical game like monopoly. However gamification falls on a spectrum ranging from free-form play to serious games (Lucero et al., 2014). Workplace gamification would likely sit towards the serious game end, as the gamification will likely be skills and educational based, facing real-world issues.

Building blocks of gameplayEdit

The building blocks of gameplay form the necessary tools needed to create a gamified experience (Urh et al., 2015). These building blocks are; game mechanics, game dynamics and narratives or themes.

  • Game Mechanics = points, levels, badges, virtual gifts etc. (Urh et al., 2015)
  • Game Dynamics = rewards, competition, self-expression etc. (Urh et al., 2015)
  • Narrative/ theme (optional) = olympics, magic, heros etc.

Popular gamification elements include points, social interactions, leaderboards, progress status, levels, immediate feedback, narrative, badges and reward systems (Garrett & Young, 2019). These were identified in the context of gamification in patient education, however these elements are easily identified in many gamification examples. Point systems were identified as the most common element found in gamification, however successful gamification does not require the use of points (Garrett & Young, 2019). Narratives and themes, although not necessary, can help tailor your gamification to a particular audience.


Duolingo is an app and website designed to teach users different languages. Duolingo uses gamification elements to engage their users to continue with their learning. Key gamification elements that Duolingo uses includes a streak which remains if the user spends 10 minutes on the app everyday. Duolingo also implements badges to provide the user with instant gratification after completing a level. A social element is also incorporated to encourage players to compete against their friends and be held accountable.


User experienceEdit

When looking to gamify an activity it is important to have a key understanding of your user that the experience is being designed for. The players[grammar?] user experience is important for engagement and allowing the game to be well received Bartle, 1996).

Richard Bartle developed a model of player types to identify what players look for in a game. Four different player types have been developed to help determine the needs and interests of your users. These player types are killers, achievers, socialites and explorers (Bartle, 1996).

  • Killers: these players are engaged by leaderboards and ranking systems. They direct focus towards winning and competition against their peers.
  • Achievers: these players are motivated by in game achievements. Goal setting is a key way to ensure this player remains on task.
  • Socialites: these players are motivated by game mechanics such as newsfeeds, obtaining friends and a chat function.
  • Explorers: these players look to discover and embarking on journeys. Surprise is a key elements to engage explorers.

Which player do you identify with?

Is there a particular player type you are aiming to cater for in your gamified experience?

Motivation and gamificationEdit

[Provide more detail]

Self determination theoryEdit

Figure 1. Self determination theory needs

Self-determination theory is a theory of motivation that describes the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and why it can be applied in the workplace. Intrinsic motivation can be characterised by activities done for an inherent interest and enjoyment. Whereas extrinsic motivation is due to an environmental reason to engage in an activity (Figure 1)(Ryan & Deci, 2000). Self-determination theory explains that autonomy, competence and relatedness are supportive frameworks to increase motivation and maximise performance. Autonomy, competence and relatedness are psychological needs that must be met for an individual to be intrinsically motivated Ryan & Deci, 2000, 2017).

Table 1: Three psychological needs of Self determination theory

Needs Description
Autonomy An individual engaging in an activity with willingness and choice.
Competence An individual being equipped with the necessary skills to participate in a behaviour.
Relatedness The social need of feeling connected to others.

(Ryan & Deci, 2000, 2017)

Within this theory enhancing intrinsic motivation is important as it results in higher achievement, however extrinsic motivation can be beneficial through rewards (Ryan & Deci, 2000, 2017). It is difficult to expect that individuals are always intrinsically motivated in the workplace. This is due to the individual not having a keen interest in a particular activity or project that they are needing to complete Ryan & Deci, 2000). For example adolescent school school students are not expected to be intrinsically motivated with every subject they are required to take. However, when looking to intrinsically motivate an individual consider how you can meet the three psychological needs.

Autotelic flowEdit

Flow experience can be described as entering a deep state of engagement, enjoyment and absorption in an activity. Flow state involves a merging of action and awareness, deep concentration, an increased sense of control, distorted perception of time and a rewarding experience (Hektner & Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). Flow is important when a person is looking to lock into a task and be efficient with their time and energy (Tse et al., 2021). Individuals in the workplace have been found to have an increase in their levels of wellbeing when they have more frequent flow states compared to when they do not (Bakker & Sanz-Vergel, 2013; Olčar et al., 2019). Flow has been found to be highly associated with intrinsic motivation. This is due to the individual completing an activity with the optimal level of challenge requiring engagement with a high level of skills (Hektner & Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).

The principles of autotelic flow can be applied to gamification to increase the audience engagement with the activity or experience. One example of how flow state may be achieved in gamification is via the level of difficulty of the activity. Many games have players choose their level of difficulty and as round progress the skills required to complete the game. Ensuring that the player has a few levels of difficulty can assist in them entering a flow state.

Fogg's behavioural modelEdit

BJ Fogg developed a behavioural model to give insight to human behaviour and provide a strategy on how to implement a new behaviour. Fogg's behavioural model has three factors that contribute to a behaviour occurring (Fogg, 2009). These are motivation, ability and triggers[grammar?]. For the behaviour to be completed a person must have sufficient initial motivation, sufficient abilities and skills and a trigger to begin the sequence (Fogg, 2009). The behaviour activation threshold is a concept to help explain why some target behaviours occur and others do not. A target behaviour will occur when a persons[grammar?] motivation and ability exceeds the behaviour activation threshold then a trigger will cause the behaviour. However, if a person is underneath the threshold, even with a trigger the target behaviour will not occur (Fogg, 2009).

An example of this is an exercise watch notifying the user to stand up and move. A exercise watch user has the initial motivation as they have purchased and are wearing the watch. They would also have the skill to stand-up if they are using the product as intended. Finally, the trigger of the notification to stand reminds the user to complete the desired behaviour.

The ability to complete an action or behaviour can move a person beyond the behaviour activation threshold (Fogg, 2009). As ability is crucial to behaviour change we can look to increase this factor. A persons[grammar?] ability can be increased by making the task simpler to avoid laziness. A task can be simpler through[explain?]:

  • time
  • money
  • physical effort
  • brain cycles
  • social deviance

Therefore, when considering gamification ensure that your users have the initial motivation and ability to do the task. If this is the case, gamification can use triggers to encourage the user to complete the desired behaviour.

Nudging behaviourEdit

Nudge theory uses principles of positive reinforcement and indirect signals to encourage a behaviour to occur (Thaler & Sunstien 2009). Behavioural nudges can be found in everyday and real world experiences. An example of a behaviour nudge is the placement of lollies and chocolate in a supermarket. The treats are tactically placed at the eye level of a child at the checkout of the supermarket. The placement of the treat nudges children to ask their parents for a treat, resulting in the behaviour of adults purchasing chocolate and lollies. When looking at gamification, nudge theory is applied to encourage users to complete the desired behaviour. Nudges could include pop ups in an online game or streak feature to encourage the user to return to the app. Nudge theory is comparable to the triggers discussed in Fogg's behavioural model.

Fun Theory was initiated by Volkswagen used elements of Gamification to suggest that pleasure is motivating and engaging. The initiative created several gamified scenarios which aimed to engage general members of the public.

Speeding Ticket Lottery

The speeding ticket lottery was an experimental scenario trialed in Stockholm, Sweden in 2010. The speeding ticket lottery used principles of operant conditioning through positive reinforcement to motivate drivers to comply with driving laws (Charlie Sorrel, 2010). Drivers who were caught be speeding cameras were still obliged to pay their speeding fines. However, drivers who did not speed, were entered into a speeding ticket lottery. The lottery was the funded by the speeding fines from non-compliant drivers. Drivers were rewarded with positive reinforcement to reduce the number of speeding drivers in Sweden. Fun Theory found that this resulted in a 22% reduction in speed, with the average speeding fines being reduced (Charlie Sorrel, 2010).

Gamification in the workplaceEdit

When an individual is engaged with their work they are energetic and feel enthusiasm and challenge (Bakker & Sanz-Vergel, 2013). Therefore it is important for employers to effectively use tools and strategies that will increase motivation and engagement. Employee engagement and productivity is a key area of priority for many workplaces (Bakker & Sanz-Vergel, 2013). Gamification is a solution to consider when appressing[say what?] contemporary problems in the workplace. These problems include employee stress, reduced loyalty and staffing changes (Oprescu et al., 2014). By using the principles of gamification in the workplace issues around productivity, employee wellbeing and skill development can be improved. A gamified workplace system will ideally use a balanced combination of competition and collaboration within their teams to achieve goals (Oprescu et al., 2014).

Gamification has been suggested to work best for long-term organisational and personal goals in the workplace[factual?]. Gamification principles often result in instant gratification however it is important to keep employees engaged in the future (Perryer et al., 2016). It is particularly important to have employees set their own goals within the gamified experience. [grammar?] therefore the elements of autonomy and competence are achieved. If a person is given autonomy and the opportunity to master a skill in the workplace they are more likely to become intrinsically motivated (Ryan & Deci, 2000).


When applying gamification to the workplace it is important to consider whether your nudging of behaviour is ethical. Behavioural psychology is crucial in nudging a person to complete desired tasks and behaviours, however if done without ethical considerations the implication is potentially manipulation (Thaler & Sunstien 2009). This is particularly relevant in the workplace as there is often power dynamics at play.

Sesame Credit | Case Study

China has used the principles of gamification to 'gamify life' through a surveillance point based system. Sesame credit is a social credit system that either rewards participants with points for pro-social behaviours, or deducts points as a form of punishment (Chong, 2019). Individuals with a low credit score are punished through difficulty in finding jobs, renting properties, lending money and the risk of losing relationships (Chong, 2019). The aim of the system is through positive reinforcement and positive punishment the behaviour of participants is nudged to be more responsible.

This an example of an unethical form of gamification. Sesame credit uses function such as social competition, points and leaderboards but all for the wrong reasons.


1 Self-determination theory operates off extrinsic motivation?:


2 This quiz is a form of gamification:



Figure 2. Workplace collaboration and enjoyment

So far we have learnt about motivational psychology and what is gamification. So what are the benefits of applying gamification to your workplace?

Overall a key benefit for gamification in the workplace is increasing work satisfaction and positive affect (Ferreira et al., 2017). It is important to have colleagues in the workplace feeling motivated and happy to come into work. By applying gamification to mundane tasks or by switching up everyday routine motivation can be increase. Employee wellbeing has been found to be positively correlated with productivity, client loyalty and negatively correlated with employee turnover (Krekel et al., 2019). Therefore, demonstrating the importance of employees feeling happy at work affecting the retention of staff and overall performance of the business[grammar?]. An increase in workplace performance and encouraging employees to complete work are other benefits of gamification (Ferreira et al., 2017). It is in the best interest of an organisation to consider applying gamification elements to the workplace to increase employee motivation which improves the success of the organisation.


Gamification although with many benefits is not always the solution to motivating individuals or teams[grammar?]. Gamification has found to be successful in specific situations and with particular audiences[grammar?][factual?]. When discussing workplace motivation consider whether the situation needs to be gamified or not. Firstly, consider the ethical consideration of gamifying the situation and whether there are other underlying issues. Furthermore, in some circumstances the enjoyment associated with gamification has been found to decline with increased use (Koivisto & Hamari, 2014)[Provide more detail]

[for example?].

The following are three pitfalls of gamification to consider before implementing gamification in the workplace;

  1. Does the business have the flexibility, time and/or budget to use gamification?
  2. Is adding gamification going to over complicate the situation?
  3. Is this suitable for long term? Do you have the resources to implement the gamification?

Considering these pitfalls will ensure gamification is the best form of workplace motivation for the team.

Gamification checklistEdit

The following checklist will assist workplaces in applying gamification to their workforce.

  • What is the experience you are looking to gamify?
  • What building blocks of gameplay are you using?
  • Who is your target audience and do they fit into a player type?
  • Can you satisfy the basic psychological needs in self-determination theory through gamification?
  • Does your audience have the skills and initial motivation to do the gamified experience?
  • What nudges can you incorporate?
  • Is applying gamification ethical in this situation?
Figure 3. Gamification in learning environments


Gamification is an upcoming theory in behavioural science that is being applied to the workplace by many employers. Gamification can enhance work motivation through intrinsically motivating employees. Using the theory of self-determination theory, motivation is increased when players have autonomy, the skillset and a social aspect in gamified experiences. An example in the workplace would be completing a work health and safety quest to ensure employees understand safety protocols. Autonomy could be given to employees by allowing them to do the training at any time during the shift, [grammar?] the quest could involve using the skills required in the job. Finally, having a social aspect to compete against colleagues could motivate individuals to finish the training quicker.

Other motivational theories such an entering a flow state and Fogg's behavioural model also help to explain why gamification works. Workplaces need to consider the skill level, time and triggers to encourage behaviour change. For example, if the workplace needs regular cleaning to be done by all staff members, use gamification. Have a social competition or game like experience to encourage cleaning behaviours. Place triggers in the form of notes or pictures of cleaning objects to nudge the behaviour to occur.

Gamification is a simple and effective method to see motivational change in the workplace. Employee wellbeing and performance can increase as an outcome of a gamified workplace. Notably, ethical considerations are important to ensure employees are not being manipulated. Gamification can go wrong when behaviour is being influenced without employee consent.

How can you use the principles of gamification to see behavioural change in your workplace? The next time you find yourself seeking a way to engage your colleagues consider applying the principles of gamification. Whether it is creating a quest like journey to motivate people to clean up communal areas, or maybe a leaderboard of small achievements. Your teammates and employees may be more intrinsically motivated to complete tasks and succeed in the workplace.

See alsoEdit


Bakker, A. B., & Sanz-Vergel, A. I. (2013). Weekly work engagement and flourishing: The role of hindrance and challenge job demands. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 83, 397–409.

Bartle, R. (1996). Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDs. Journal of MUD research, 1(1), 19.

Chong, G. P. L. (2019). Cashless China: Securitization of everyday life through Alipay’s social credit system—Sesame Credit. Chinese Journal of Communication, 12(3), 290-307.

Ferreira, A. T., Araújo, A. M., Fernandes, S., & Miguel, I. C. (2017, April). Gamification in the workplace: A systematic literature review. In World conference on information systems and technologies (pp. 283-292). Springer, Cham.

Fogg, B. J. (2009, April). A behavior model for persuasive design. In Proceedings of the 4th international Conference on Persuasive Technology (pp. 1-7).

Garett, R., & Young, S. D. (2019). Health care gamification: a study of game mechanics and elements. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 24(3), 341-353.

Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014, January). Does gamification work?--a literature review of empirical studies on gamification. In 2014 47th Hawaii international conference on system sciences (pp. 3025-3034). Ieee.

Hektner, J.M. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). A Longitudinal Exploration of Flow and Intrinsic Motivation in Adolescents, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (New York, NY, April 8-12, 1996).

Koivisto, J., & Hamari, J. (2014). Demographic differences in perceived benefits from gamification. Computers in Human Behavior, 35, 179-188.

Krekel, C., Ward, G., & De Neve, J. E. (2019). Employee wellbeing, productivity, and firm performance. Saïd Business School WP, 4.

Lucero, A., Karapanos, E., Arrasvuori, J., & Korhonen, H. (2014). Playful or gameful? Creating delightful user experiences. interactions, 21(3), 34-39. DOI: 10.1145/2590973

Oberprieler, K., & Leonard, S. N. (2015). A Model for Using Activity Theory in Education Design: A Gamification Example. Australian Association for Research in Education.

Olčar, D., Rijavec, M., & Golub, T. L.(2019). Primary school teachers’ life satisfaction: The role of life goals, basic psychological needs and flow at work. Current Psychology, 38, 320–329.

Oprescu, F., Jones, C., & Katsikitis, M. (2014). I PLAY AT WORK—ten principles for transforming work processes through gamification. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 14.

Perryer, C., Celestine, N. A., Scott-Ladd, B., & Leighton, C. (2016). Enhancing workplace motivation through gamification: Transferrable lessons from pedagogy. The international journal of management education, 14(3), 327-335.

Charlie Sorrel. (2010). Swedish Speed-Camera Pays Drivers to Slow Down. WIRED; WIRED.

Thaler, R. H., & Sunstien, C. R. (2009). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. Penguin

Tse, D. C., Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2021). Living well by “flowing’well: The indirect effect of autotelic personality on well-being through flow experience. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 16(3), 310-321.

Urh, M., Vukovic, G., & Jereb, E. (2015). The model for introduction of gamification into e-learning in higher education. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 197, 388-397.

External linksEdit