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Guest Post: The Gamification of Employee Recognition: What You Need to Know

Guest Post: The Gamification of Employee Recognition: What You Need to Know

Nicole Powers


Special Guest Post from Nicole Powers, Digital Strategist for Maritz Motivation Solutions

Twitter: @nicki_powers_

Let’s start by acknowledging the obvious: engaged employees are more productive and profitable than non-engaged employees.

You probably already knew that.

What you may not know is the amount of research that has gone into proving this theory and how you can leverage gamification to act on it. This is not another fluffy blog post on the importance of employee recognition. This is an actionable methodology you can use to transform your business into a place of engagement.

Before you begin, reframe your point of view. View your business as a social network. Realize that your employees are human beings, not a means to a profit-end.


1. Ask yourself, “What do my employees want?” Hint: It’s not a pen on their 5 year anniversary.

2. Focus on your company’s core values and align them with your company’s recognition strategy.

3. Decentralize ownership by educating your employees on recognition best practices and by providing them with tools to recognize each other.

4. Identify high value behaviors that support your company’s mission.

5. Gamify the hell out of those behaviors.

While it may be tempting to begin with game mechanics, it is critical for leadership to understand what motivates employees in the first place. With five generations represented in the work environment, the timing couldn’t be more poignant. To successfully deploy a gamified recognition program, your strategy must acknowledge that some people are motivated by opportunities for personal achievement, while others are motivated by competition

A recently published study from Northwestern University confirms that the cultural type best suited to creating a motivated workforce is a solid mix of cooperative and competitive.

“The takeaway here is that employees must be expected to cooperate and work together, but they must also be expected to take charge and fight when necessary.”

Enter: Gamification

I am not suggesting you throw your employees into an arena and let them fight it out Hunger Games style. The chart below depicts how you can ethically leverage game mechanics to drive specific dynamics within the context of your recognition program.

The gamification of employee recognition: What you need to know

So, gamification makes employee recognition programs more engaging because it taps into the drivers of human behavior. What now?

Here are a few things we’ve learned from gamifying our own employee recognition program at Maritz:

1. Leaderboards and news feeds are most effective when they are personally relevant. Give your users the option to filter this type of activity by department or by their own personal networks.

2. Notifications are a convenient messaging tool. DO NOT abuse this power. When you overuse notifications, they become part of the scenery and your audience stops paying attention (ever tried to pull a door open when the sign clearly says push?). Instead, only use notifications as a call to action and save your marketing copy for emails.

3. Badges are undoubtedly the most vilified game mechanic in existence. Therefore the scarcer the badge, the better. The first 2 or 3 badges can be relatively easy to earn, but they must become progressively more difficult to achieve.

4. When incorporating social media into your employee recognition program, it is important to understand what motivates people to share things to their external networks in the first place. I “grew up” in the consumer marketing world where social sharing was primarily viewed as a tool to recruit others. In an employee recognition program, the share button appeals to a person’s motivation to self-express. In other words, they will hit the almighty share button if it gives them the opportunity to define themselves to others rather than to connect with your brand. Accept this truth and move on.

5. Scarcity along with the opportunity for choice is a powerful human motivator. Connect with every participant in your program by offering a compelling selection of rewards that encourages each person to change his or her behavior. This enables the most critical element of motivation  --goal setting.


Nicole is a Digital Strategist for Maritz Motivation Solutions which provides innovative solutions in Employee Recognition, Sales Incentives, Channel Loyalty, and Consumer Rewards programs.

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