Gamification in HR: Hit or miss?

Gamification has been around for some time now, so where has it proved a useful tool in HR and where has it been over-hyped?

It’s been several years since gamification was first talked about in HR circles, but the jury is still out over whether it’s a killer application or little more than a gimmick.

Gamification is the use of gaming elements and activities, such as winning badges, earning points and topping leaderboards, in a non-game environment. It appeals to an individual’s sense of competition and desire for recognition. Despite the preconception, it needn’t involve traditional gameplay; in theory, a wide range of people-related processes can be given the gamification touch.

Lessons have been learned since the concept was first introduced and gamification is showing signs of growing up in the HR and L&D functions. An Coppens, founder and chief game changer of Gamification Nation, which develops gamified programmes for HR, says “good quality” programmes are now replacing the “early-day superficial designs”.

“The employers willing to invest in a good strategy design are getting results – those that buy into just superficial solutions or quick fixes are not,” she says. “I would even say that many lessons are being shared among HR and learning professionals around how they made gamification work.”

Combining gamification with technologies such as virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) and AI is also making it more effective for many people strategies. But with gaming generations now in the workplace, there is surely more to come.

Here we explore how gamification has and is being used in three core areas of HR.


Predicted use: In recruitment, its application was seen as an innovative and cost-effective way to assess candidates based on how they perform in a game.

How it’s been applied: In 2010, L’Oréal’s Reveal game, where users compete and share results on social media and a global leaderboard, kicked off the use of gamification in recruitment. Over the years, as well as giving employers insight into the skills, personalities and behaviours of potential hires, gamification has helped engage candidates with the company, the role and the recruitment process itself. It has also been used to raise brand awareness; for example, KPMG’s 80 Days to Race the World drew students and graduates to the company. When used with VR, gamification can also give a near real-life picture of what it’s like to work in a company.

Tips for getting it right: Understand why you are doing it. “Are the games you are using genuinely measuring the traits that are important for success in the role in your company?” asks Alex Cresswell, managing director EMEA at Pymetrics, which applies neuroscience games and AI to help companies recruit. “Or are they giving you a bland indication of whether someone fits the traditional view of a good employee?” He also stresses the need for the right approach: “Is it a simple, gamified version of a traditional test or do the games have a scientific heritage? And do the games measure cognitive and emotional aspects of behaviour? Multi-modal assessments are shown to be more predictive of on-the-job success.”

Good practice in action: Siemens UK worked with gamified psychometric assessments provider Arctic Shores to come up with a fresh approach to how it looks at mindset and behaviours – as well as ability – of candidates in its early careers recruitment process. It implemented game-based assessment Cosmic Cadet, which measures 13 job-relevant behaviours and aspects of cognition, and awards players stars as they move through the process. Existing employees also completed the game, and data was gathered to identify behaviours that predict success and high performance for different roles. A Success Profile was then built against which to measure candidates. The use of gamification has helped increase assessment centre pass rates from 24% to 40%, and doubled the number of female candidates progressing beyond the final stage.

Learning and development

Predicted use: When gamification came along, games were already widely used in L&D. But these early learning games lacked engagement and, rather like early e-learning, experienced high drop-out rates. By introducing a sense of competition and instant feedback, gamification was heralded as a more compelling experience for learners.

How it’s been applied: Gamification is now part and parcel of many e-learning programmes as a way to increase knowledge retention, make learning fun and provide instant feedback. As well as soft and hard skills training, it’s also used in inductions and coincided with a shift to more bite-sized, just-in-time training. Gamification has also proven effective for customised learning, such as City & Guilds’ Kineo till training game for McDonald’s, where employees have to get an order 100% accurate. The rise of AR is also heralding a new era for gamification in this space, though the education sector seems to be ahead of corporates in this thinking. “It [AR] allows you to create fun interventions such as treasure hunts to knowledge collection points,” Coppens explains. “Mobile devices are the key to making this work and gamification can act as the bridge that ties the mixed reality experiences into one learner journey.”

Tips for getting it right: As with any learning programme, it is vital to set clear goals and have before and after measurement mechanisms in place. Gamification sometimes fails because the organisation – and even app and platform provider – feels that one strategy should suit all people, says Coppens. She advises investing time in understanding what motivates people in the organisation to learn or be more productive. “Then start with a small pilot group and iterate regularly from there. A gamification design should change a little bit, regularly, just like marketing changes with seasons and special occasions,” she adds.

Good practice in action: Gamification is used in QinetiQ’s xCITE immersive training environment to futureproof defence training through an innovative approach. xCITE provides an engaging, motivating experience that leads to behaviour change. Progression is through friendly competition and a sense of achievement is enhanced by rewards, while team learning encourages bonding across multiple locations. Each team can review performances, discuss areas of improvement and plan their next engagement. The gamification is complemented by VR, which immerses trainers and trainees in realistic scenarios to practise team skills and uses adaptive learning that adjusts to individual learner needs.


Predicted use: As reward is a powerful motivational tool, there was a natural assumption that game mechanics such as badges, points and leaderboards would engage employees in their work.

How it’s been applied: The use of gamification to increase engagement in an employee’s day-to-day role is usually less about the playing of a game and more about gamifying the working environment. Arguably, sales environments have done this for years with awards for top performers; now this approach is being fleshed out further with gamification and its badges and leaderboards. Application extends beyond sales though, with Uber drivers able to earn badges for ‘excellent service’ and ‘great conversation’ for instance. Other firms use it to engage employees in particular initiatives. For example, Aon uses avatars, AR and leaderboards to engage employees with financial wellbeing tools and health applications.

Tips for getting it right: There is a danger that firms simply introduce a set of badges, call it gamification and assume it will increase engagement. Dominic Manley, UK technology product manager at Aon, warns that this will be seen as gamification for gamification’s sake. “It is about setting a challenge, even if the challenger is only trying to beat their own personal best. Make sure the rewards are achievable and include layers of the gamification for a longer-term solution that will continue to feel rewarding,” he says. “Make it fun; make it achievable but make it meaningful.” Also, while such an approach might work well in sales, in a less target-driven environment there is a risk it can have a demotivational effect. “Consider how the end-user will feel during and after the user experience,” says Manley. “Care needs to be given in the design to ensure you are hitting the right notes. Collaboration over competition is important. You want people to enjoy the experience, not drive a divide in the workforce.”

Good practice in action: Business development and lead generation firm Chartered Developments is using the Earthmiles@Work gamification app to run a team walking competition, to incentivise employee wellbeing. “Our internal competition was fiercely – and amicably – contested. I must have heard the word ‘Earthmiles’ 350 times in the last week,” says Chartered Developments’ operations manager Shaun Headlam, adding that it makes “small changes to people’s perception of health, exercise and wellbeing, and that is a big deal”. He recommends running an internal communications campaign to encourage engagement, and sending “motivational messages” to keep “everyone focused on the team goal”.

This piece featured in our recent Futureproofing versus present practicalities technology supplement. Read the full supplement here