Leadership & Management

How a Bit of Play Might Lead to Better Work

The CEO of Badgeville says companies that “gamify” their workplaces could see more engagement and productivity.

March 18, 2015

| by Shana Lynch


A trader plays a computer game in the trading room of the Shanghai Petroleum Exchange.

Two-thirds of your employees aren’t fully engaged in their work. | Reuters/Aly Song

Only about 32% of your workforce is fully engaged in their jobs, according to a 2014 Gallup survey. That means more than two-thirds are currently staring out the window, daydreaming about their weekend plans, or doodling during company meetings. But a Redwood City company called Badgeville believes it has a way to improve those numbers by helping make employees’ jobs more rewarding. Its method: “gamifying” the workplace.

Gamification entails anything from creating leaderboards to show best performers to handing out digital “badges” when workers complete a complex task. Successful programs trigger employee motivations, from a desire for success or status to building social connections or winning competitions. Rewards can also be tangible (think a gift card) or intangible (think recognition among your peers).


Illustration of man reaching for a trophy

Illustrated by Tomi Um

Badgeville, founded in 2010, focused early on helping companies engage their consumers, through rewards or brand loyalty programs, among others. But a few years ago, the company realized the enterprise side of its business was quickly growing and brought on Jon Shalowitz, a CEO with experience in enterprise software, to help. “Enterprises that want to be successful can’t ignore the challenges of engaging their employees,” says Shalowitz, who had most recently served as CEO and cofounder of CloudUP Networks, a software-as-a-service applications security startup bought by CipherCloud in 2014. “It’s not a given anymore that people come to the office, you give them a computer, and they do their work.”

Badgeville, which is backed by $40 million in venture funding, operates as software-as-a-service and can be built into platforms like Salesforce and Yammer. Booming markets include the manufacturing sector, insurance, technology firms, and companies onboarding large numbers of people, Shalowitz says. Most clients ask for help building external and internal communities, training new employees, or boosting their sales teams’ productivity.

Not every program is a winner. Programs that aren’t managed regularly or are poorly designed to begin with tend to sink fast. Gamification also fails when employers incorrectly identify motivations. “If you have a touchy-feely group and put in a highly competitive game, everybody will love it for a second and then it will die quickly,” says Steve Sims, Badgeville’s chief design officer.


It’s not a given anymore that people come to the office, you give them a computer, and they do their work.
Jon Shalowitz

Successful programs can make a bottom-line impact. Another Gallup poll found that companies with engaged workers see higher profitability and customer ratings, less turnover, and lower safety incidents. “What works is listening to your employees,” Sims says. “Try to understand their needs and motivations. Be transparent. What do the employees need to do and what do they get for doing it? Employees also need to see feedback on how they are doing at all points in the experience.” Here are ways Shalowitz says you can incentivize your teams, based on his experience with Badgeville:

Call Center Worker

Challenge: Monotonous days; workers often feel overwhelmed.

Solution: Show them they aren’t on a hamster wheel. Use mechanics that appeal to their sense of progress and achievement. Examples include progress bars and streaks, as well as symbols that represent both their short- and long-term career goals.

Sales Team

Challenge: Getting clean, error-free data and forecasting accurately.

Solution: Appeal to a salesperson’s desire for success and social status by making clean data and forecast accuracy part of the win. For example, show that they could reach the President’s Club more easily by doing these activities (and position these goals as low-hanging fruit). Individual and team competitions work well with this ambitious group.

Employee Training

Challenge: Keeping employees up-to-date and educated on the latest aspects of their product and the industry.

Solution: Gamified educational programs that feed an employee’s need for achievement and progress. Try a tracked educational approach with discrete milestones or recognition of competency. This kind of program can help employees both acquire new skills and stay current with subjects that need to be maintained and/or refreshed at given time intervals.

New Hires

Challenge: Getting employees up and running as fast as possible. Getting them acclimated to the culture, people, process, and tools.

Solution: Clear, bite-size instructions on what they should do and why, onboarding tasks and/or missions with feedback (on how they are doing, where they are in the process, and what to do next), and exposure to the people, tools, and training they need to be effective quickly. Consider incorporating task lists and progress boards to show them where they are in the process.

Jon Shalowitz received his MBA from Stanford in 1996.

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