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ATD Blog

Beyond Gamification

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Disengaged employees are not just a morale problem; they are a bottom-line problem. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the output of goods and services produced per hour by an employee in the first half of 2022 dropped to its lowest rate since 1947. Gallup estimates that disengaged workers cost $7.8 trillion a year globally in lost productivity.

Enter Gamification

One tool or approach that has been suggested as a methodology for solving the problem of disengaged employees is gamification. Gamification means adding game elements to non-game situations such as creating a work application or process for an employee to earn points by performing specific activities correctly.

However, many gamification efforts focus on cute characters, meaningless point systems, and leaderboards, which only the top 10 people care about. Game elements alone are not enough to engage an employee choosing to disengage. Unless gamification is part of a larger strategy or a more focused effort, it will not have the success an organization hopes to achieve in terms of employee engagement.

To increase employee engagement, talent development professionals need to foster a sense of purpose, provide transparency, and encourage employee happiness within the work environment. These attributes move beyond superficial actions and toward meaningful engagement.

Sense of Purpose
A study by the consultancy firm McKinsey & Company found that 70 percent of employees said their sense of purpose is largely defined by their work. But what happens when an employee is uncertain about the purpose of their organization or their purpose within the organization? What if the organization doesn’t seem to have a purpose except to make money for leadership and shareholders?


One step talent development professionals can take is to assist managers in finding their own purpose. Before a person can help others create their sense of purpose at work, they must create their own sense of purpose. (This is especially critical as lines between work and home become increasingly porous.) Then, talent development professionals can help managers have much-needed conversations with their direct reports to help them find and identify a sense of purpose.

While executives set the overall purpose for an organization, a manager or supervisor can create a sense of purpose for their group, team, or department. Employees often indicate their direct boss has the most influence on their day-to-day activities, and they can have the most influence on helping them find purpose at work as well.

In uncertain times, being transparent with colleagues and employees is critical for building and maintaining trust. Transparency is the concept of sharing information that makes a difference in the lives of employees. This can include information like key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives and key results (OKRs). Transparency can also mean being open about team, department, or group shortcomings.


Transparency starts with open lines of communication to let people know the good and bad news with equal levels of integrity. Firing employees via social media networks or email is not an example of an open line of communication. Treating people with a sense of fairness and providing solid reasons for layoffs and other tough decisions lays the groundwork for trust, which, in turn, contributes to employee engagement.

Encouraging Happiness at Work
This is not forced happiness. Requiring employees to go to a happy hour (virtually or in person) after a long day at work is not the best way to encourage happiness among employees. Instead, focus on building happiness and camaraderie during work hours with work-related activities. Research has shown that happy employees are less likely to leave and more likely to practice good behavior, work to satisfy customers, and be engaged.

Encouraging happiness means creating work-based relationships centered on mutual respect. Coworkers should support each other and have each other’s backs. This starts with the manager or supervisor that each employee reports to. By serving as a positive role model for how a professional, cordial, and happy work relationship should occur, a leader sets an example for everyone.

My experiences with gamification have taught me that organizations that look beyond game elements, aesthetics, and competition for competition’s sake toward a shared purpose, organizational transparency, and employee happiness find success. It’s time to move beyond gamification toward meaningful engagement.

About the Author

Karl Kapp has a worldwide reputation as one of the pioneers in the gamification of learning and instruction, having literally written the book on the topic. He's making headlines with his newest book, Microlearning: Short and Sweet. Kapp is an expert in the convergence of learning, technology, and business, was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Education in 2017, and is the recipient of the 2019 ATD Individual Contributor Award. He works all over the world helping employers (from Fortune 100 companies to start-up organizations) deliver effective, meaningful instruction using a game-thinking approach. He is a TEDx speaker, an international keynoter, and the author of several LinkedIn Learning courses as well the creator of Zombie Sales Apocalypse and Zombie Instructional Design Apocalypse, popular card games for learning. Follow Karl on Twitter @kkapp..

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Excellent article. In fact we have developed Motivacraft Gamification Platform ( considering all these and they really work marvels. For the last 6 years we are getting successful results from the field.
These elements can certainly move beyond gamification and truly make a difference. I am glad to see them incorporated into different gamification platforms.
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