Why Gamification Works in Employee Training

In Employee Training, Management by Bryan O'Neil0 Comments

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Over 10 million users have abandoned the Pokemon Go app now a month after its release, according to

Though the craze may be dying down, it’s impossible to ignore the significance of the augmented reality app that broke Apple’s App Store record for most downloads within only one week after its July release date.  Pokemon Go has inspired many to think about what it means to “gamify” other things in life –that is, to introduce game-like elements into non-game settings.

We’ve Already Been Gamifying Life

Gaining points, levelling up, completing challenges and tracking activities are all gaming elements.  We’ve been doing all of these things via different means for years now – think pedometers and punch cards that allow you to get your 10th taco for free.  Now, since mobile device usage is so widespread and people check their phones over 80 billion times a day (globally), it’s easier than ever to combine all of these elements to create a truly game-like experience.

Gamified Employee Training

But we’re not here to talk about gamifying everyday life. We’re here to focus on an area that gamification has naturally branched out to – employee training.  While some quarrels have arisen as to whether or not gamification is as effective as it could be (that’s a subject for another day), what we do know is that gamification works better than your standard training protocols and exponentially better than no system at all.

It’s easy to see why a gamified system works better for training employees than no system at all.  Let’s say you’ve got your experienced salesperson teaching a new member of the team.  You could say, “Train her in what you know” or you could lay out a specific set of things you want her trained in, the order in which you want them laid out and a timeframe wherein you expect the training to start and end.  This allows the team to keep track of milestones, which is crucial to seeing if or when progress is being made.

Gamification and Motivation

If there’s no real way for each team member to tell if progress is being made, it’s difficult for them to feel as though they are accomplishing what they’ve been assigned to do.  On top of that, you, as the manager, will only have a faint idea (if any) of what kind of progress they’re making.  With the timeframe in place, you’ve already given them an idea of a realistic time wherein to complete the training.  This prevents both the problem of the trainer (or the trainee, in some cases) extending time past its reasonable scope as well as the problem of the trainer overwhelming the trainee by going too fast through important material that needs to stick.  And you’ll learn a lot as a manager about both the trainer and trainee this way.

Depending on how you look at it, even a simple system like this has gaming elements.  Granted, this wouldn’t be called a gamified system because of the lack of rewards (a crucial part of gaming) but, even so, we have specific tasks assigned to people who need to complete them in a given time frame.  If only we could find a way to speed up the music in the office when they’re close to running out of time…

Gamification and Science

The data points are the truly critical part of the gamification solution.  It works because there is a science to it.  Just like science, gamification works because it’s repeatable, testable and scalable.


It’s repeatable because you could implement the same system at other branches of your company (not that you need multiple branches to do this – I’m just using the example to help you see in what manner the system is scalable).  To put it another way, you could stop the gamified system for a period of time and then re-implement it down the line in the same way you did the first time around.  Again, that’s because it’s built upon data.


As you implement a gamified system, you’re learning about what works and what doesn’t.   You don’t want to create a rewards system that either fails to motivate your employees to do good work or rewards them for doing something that isn’t worthwhile to begin with.  When your employees are rewarded for doing good work and for going above and beyond, it becomes more and more natural for them to do so unprovoked.  So, take the time to learn about what is working and to get feedback from your employees.  You’ll need to understand what truly motivates them or else risk missing the mark on how they’re rewarded.


It’s scalable because you can start with a simple rewards system in place with a simple leaderboard and a monthly badge award to the consistent top performer or you can implement a multi-layered system with different employees on different levels where the rewards are better and harder-earned as they work their way up.  You won’t scale up until you have the data points to do so (or a gamification expert, if you have the budget).  As you increase the stakes, you have to take into account the difficulty of the “game.”  The fate of many games has been decided on difficulty alone – make it too easy and it will feel meaningless.  Make it too difficult and you’ll effectively demotivate your employees.  The key is to build upon your data points and keep the feedback loop open.


Gamification works because it motivates employees, keeps track of progress, opens up feedback loops and builds upon the entire team’s growth.  Having a system in place is exponentially better than having no system.  Having a system that is also a motivation machine beats out a simple system of designated training modules completed within designated time frames.  Since it’s built upon science, gamification is repeatable, testable and scalable.  Don’t be overwhelmed when trying to implement a gamification system in your workplace training.  While it seems like a lot to consider, as long as you’re paying attention to your team and using the data points you receive from the open feedback loop, it’s a relatively simple yet effective way to drive your team’s progress.


About Bryan O'Neil

Bryan is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for cutting-edge technology, business intelligence and the world of online businesses.

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