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Using Gamification to Promote Sustainable Behaviours in the Workplace

Gamification is a way of approaching problems or tasks in a way that seeks to bring out the best in people.

How? Game-like principles and techniques in non-game environments to optimise outcomes. 

One common misconception of gamification in application is this idea that it serves the sole purpose of making an activity competitive. That is one element of gamification, but when we take a closer look we find that gamification implements a myriad of techniques that are designed to stimulate people in ways beyond our desires to win in life.

To understand gamification, we must first realise that games – of every nature – share common characteristics. All games share these 4 traits;

#1 A goalEvery game has a clear goal or objective


Golf- to get the ball in the hole in as few shots as possible.

Chess – to remove the opponent’s king piece.

Bowling – to knock all of the pins down.

Call of duty – to get as many kills as possible

Sims – to keep your sim alive and healthy.

#2 Rules the clear steps to achieving the specific goal or objective.

Rules are mechanisms that enable us to assign value to specific activities within a game experience. What would golf be if we were allowed to pick up the ball and drop it in the hole? What would bowling be if we could run down the aisle and kick all of the pins over? What would call of duty be if our character could not be killed?

#3 Feedback System  instructive responses that indicate how far away we are from achieving the goal or objective. ‘The game is over when ____’

Whether it’s strokes from par on a scorecard, a digital scoreboard, tally of chess pieces collected or number of kills, the logic remains the same, how much progress is being made?

#4 Voluntary Participation Whole-hearted and willing participation in the game.

This seems like a no-brainer, right? Why would we play games we don’t enjoy? 

In the case of using gamification, this important trait may often be overlooked. Does everyone in the sales team want to have their job objectives gamified? Maybe not. This is why an approach that first considers people’s willingness to participate is favourable. Games don’t work well when only half of the team are interested.

So, how can gamification be used effectively to promote sustainable behaviours in the workplace?

It is first important to distinguish the context of a game that seeks to achieve this goal. Using gamification to influence real life behaviours and outcomes comes under the title of an alternate reality game (ARG). This is not to be confused with augmented reality (AR) where objects in the physical world are augmented by computer generated perceptual information. ARG’s are commonly deployed in corporate training and in academic settings.

Examples of effective ARG’s:

Chore wars – an ARG where menial domestic chores within households are rewarded with points. 

I Love Trees – an ARG focused on helping participants develop their own Powerful Learning Practices. (PLP)

Blink Mining – Provides a team-based crisis management and disaster recovery simulations to study and assess team dynamics.

The Threshold – In a fictional universe, players uncover clues and solve mysteries of an intricately woven story that plunges players into the world of high stakes corporate espionage.

There are a number of different examples of applications of ARG’s in a workplace setting. The possibilities are endless for how it can be used to enhance or improve a learning experience, and the argument could be made that sustainable behaviours are difficult to incorporate in a game-like setting. For instance, what are the rules and what are the feedback systems?  What is a sustainable behaviour and how is it being measured? This is a good starting point, creating a framework for people to get rewarded for their contributions and establishing the highest impact areas where individuals within organisations can become more sustainable, followed by an outline of the steps required to incorporate these new behaviours on a wider scale.

For example, a known high impact area for employees in organisations is travel to and from the workplace. A Vyra study conducted in 2020 looked at the commuting journeys of 100 Irish people working from home during the Covid-19 lockdown. It found that the average person was emitting 179kg of carbon dioxide equivalents per month (equivalent to 2.8 flights from London to Dublin) commuting to and from the workplace prior to the Covid-19 lockdown. With a high impact area identified, we can now start to consider the most effective ways to reward the sustainable behaviour associated with it. Effective use of gamification could see the employee who works from home rewarded appropriately based around a flexible working schedule in the future and most importantly their employer’s goals for sustainability. However, all cases must be considered,- not all businesses are as effective remotely and would seek to avoid actively promoting this specific behaviour. But this is just one example, every organisation is fundamentally different and would seek to promote sustainable behaviours that suit their business model and employees appropriately. 

Gamification of tasks and objectives is not a solution in and of itself, used insensibly it can completely devalue a working experience or just make it unnecessarily confusing. Good game experiences are designed to give us the intrinsic rewards we desire from all experiences in work or otherwise; meaning, pride, recognition and progress to name a few.

Being sustainable as a business is a necessity across all industries moving forwards. Embedding sustainability in a team setting is an investment, not a cost. Implementing gamification into practice is just one of the many ways in which an organisation can promote a sustainable culture to empower people to take ownership within the climate change conversation.