Skip to Content
Author's profile photo Thomas Jenewein

A Short Introduction to Gamification in Human Resources

Thomas Jenewein, Business Development Manager, SAP Education

Gamification attempts to use principles from games in non-game contexts, such as the work environment. It aims to foster more fun and engagement. At least, this is how gamification is commonly defined. But how does gamification actually differ from playing?

1 Definition and delimitation

The difference between gaming and playing is that gaming has rules. Furthermore, gamification does not map a complex whole context, as is the case with simulation games. Instead, individual elements are used, for example, the collection of points in loyalty programs, or a progress bar showing the completion of your LinkedIn profile.


Gaming and playing according to Sebastian Deterding.

One of the frameworks for categorizing design elements and the motivators that influence them is the Oktalysis-Model (Yu-kai Chou, 2013). It shows many of the elements that you can use in gamification. The most well-known are the achievements that are reflected in points, progress from level to level, and badges. Avatars in the form of a personal profile are also common. Such elements tend to appeal more to extrinsic motivation and are therefore more short-term. However, they can also have an effect on intrinsic motivators, for example, status.

There are plenty of people who like to clock up even more air miles so that they can keep their Miles & More card or collect more points for a voucher. Less positive in an ethical sense are the motivators that originate from, for example, impatience.

Fear of missing out (FOMO) has now been recognized as a clinical syndrome and some applications – such as Facebook – use it to spur users into action (for example, with notifications such as “Five people visited your profile. Find out who here”). In the model, such messages are known as “black hats” as a reference to malicious hackers.

#Overview Motivators and design elements in gamification according to the octalysis model

Extrinsic motivators

Intrinsic motivators

White hat (ethically positive)

Achievements (for example, points, badges)

Ownership (for example, avatars, virtual goods)

Meaning (for example, story, higher meaning)

Empowerment (for example, unlock, perceived control)

Social influence (for example, status, gifts)

Black hat (ethically questionable)

Scarcity and impatience (for example, countdown)

Unpredictability and curiosity (for example, surprises)

Avoidance (for example, loss of points, FOMO)

2 Implementing gamification

The design elements described above show that there are far more possibilities than merely using points, badges, leaderboards. The central objective of gamification is to motivate a person to take certain action. It makes sense here to plan backwards and to ask oneself:

  • For whom and in what context?
  • What behavior should these aspects lead to (higher usage, creation of user generated content etc.)?
  • Which psychological aspects do I wnat to influence (joy, reflection etc.)?
  • Which elements of gamification influence my design (achievements, meaning etc.)?

As well as addressing these questions, gamification should be implemented as a classical feedback loop that must be optimized regularly. So you see – it is not about implementing mechanics – it is about designing desired bahavioral outcomes.

#Practical tip

As a recommendation, activities to gain points should be adapted and renewed or new challenging elements should be deployed.#

You should always bear in mind here that gamification is for achieving business goals and is not an end in itself. It should also be clear that it does not make sense to attempt to improve a poor process with gamification elements.

There are different game preferences depending on the target group. Some players prefer

  • To explore (explorers)
  • To interact with others (socializers)
  • To take on challenges (achievers)
  • To impede or defeat others (killers)

It is important to satisfy the different preferences. However, most people belong to the socializer group.

3 Three examples of gamification in Human Resources


  • America’s Army: The U.S. Army uses an online computer game in the form of a tactical and first-person shooter. It is free-of-charge for players, but costs several million dollars to produce. The most successful players are contacted by the recruiting department of the U.S. Army.
  • My Mariott Hotel: Applicants can manage a hotel kitchen for a day, similar to a simulation game. The game gives prospective candidates an insight into day-to-day work, and also has the advantage of promoting an innovative employer brand. In addition to injecting a fun factor into the recruiting process, it has been proven to facilitate better self-selection. As a result of this virtual internship, some prospective candidates do not apply, thereby reducing the cost of processing applications.

Health management

  • Our employees can order fitness trackers at a special price. This is part of the “Take Charge of Your Health and Well-Being” program. Fitness trackers work with gamification elements such as leaderboards, challenges from and comparisons with other users, points, and level systems.

Compensation and rewards

  • In our internal social network “SAP Jam,” employees can give other colleagues kudos, for example, to thank them for effective collaboration. Colleagues can also assign qualifications to each other and confirm qualifications, similar to the features in LinkedIn.

Learning & Education

  • In SAP Learning Hub, the digital learning platform that teaches subscribers to use and implement SAP products, there are many learning communities. Learners can collect points and badges by accomplishing missions, for example, maintaining their profile or answering questions posed by other learners. Their level of experience increases according to the number of points they have. Such online reputations are becoming increasingly important. The concept is currently piloted in several learning communites (SAP Learning Rooms) – and further developed with trainers, moderators & learners.
  • Our software developers can learn how to build apps in a gamified environment (g-learning). Instead of reading boring textbooks, they can travel from city to city virtually and experience local surprises as well as learning the dry subject matter. Furthermore, they can enter into a team competition to develop the best app. The feedback here and for SAP Learning Hub is consistently positive – as is employee participation.

4 Conclusion

Even though gamification is still in its infancy, I believe that it offers great potential if seen from the perspective of motivation design. It is always important to foster employee engagement and motivation. We often lose sight of this in our objectified, calculated, and efficiency-driven working environment. If work can be made even more fun, so much the better. Please do not leave this topic to a chief engagement officer. Try it yourself in your work – and try to think like a game designer sometimes, too.

Further Information

Assigned Tags

      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
      Author's profile photo Caroleigh Deneen
      Caroleigh Deneen

      Nice post, Thomas. Yu-kai Chou's book, Actionable Gamification, is one of the best I've read, and I highly recommend it to anyone considering introducing gamification, or taking what they are doing to the next level. As you outline nicely, it focuses on the psychology of why people play, and unless we keep that in mind, our gamification efforts will fail.

      Our very own Ashish Pratap had a chance to talk to Yu-kai last week and told me he hopes to share a summary on SCN soon.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Nice Post Thomas. I had a chance  to talk to Yu kai and we talked in length about different topics. I would share those soon after i finish my research.What I can  share now is about the strategy dashboard and how its is important once you are familiar with Octalysis Models. Octalysis model is great but we need further strategy to make sure we achieve business metrics.Please go through his link to understand more about his strategy dashboard.

      Also if you are great gamification enthusiast you can join octalysis group on facebook where i am member and we keep sharing good stuff.

      Author's profile photo Thomas Jenewein
      Thomas Jenewein
      Blog Post Author

      thanks Caroleigh & Ashis for the feedback,

      BTW: I subscribed to the Faceboog group 🙂

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Excellent post Thomas. Great little summary of gamification and how it fits into SAP. I wish I had SAP JAM when I was using SAP 4-10 years ago. There was so much complaining about the vastness and complexity of SAP. I think the JAM would have created a greater user acceptance than it had as well as the vast increased in employee engagement through motivations of intrinsic and extrinsic values.

      Yu-Kai Chou is truly one of those greats in gamification. His documentation of Octalysis is above par. Anybody seeking to implement a gamification system needs to read his stuff.

      I am sharing this article via Buffer. Hopefully it will go viral and it will show up on my Top Gamification Articles of the month.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Super resourceful. Am bookmarking this for sure, and probably sharing it as well!


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Also,By the way, the discerning feature between white hat and black hat is not that the former is ethical and the latter non-ethical. The differentiation lies in the fact that in White Hat you feel in control, while in Black Hat you don't.

      Black Hat motivation can lead to very positive, ethical behaviour like going to the gym too! In turn, White Hat motivation can lead to unethical behaviour (some of the worst ethnic cleansing has been carried out under an Epic Meaning and Calling banner/motivation)...Comment from Octalysis Explorers (Facebook Group)Joris

      Author's profile photo Thomas Jenewein
      Thomas Jenewein
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Ashis,

      right - the "ethical" term was more my personal interpretation. For me this methods look a bit like manipulating - and some applications like Facebook use them to drive usetraffic in a way which is not the best UX for the user. So I think they should be handled with care as they could have negative effects for some people - like those with lower self-regulation strength, FOMO is a good example for that.