The gamification conundrum

Are you using gamification for internal communication? It was such a hot topic a few years back, but what’s happened and is anyone using it now?

Today I have a guest post by Jo Bland, Head of Internal Communications and Engagement at NHS Digital. Jo @jobland3 recently studied the MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.

She used a study of gamification as part of her dissertation piece and has written for my blog to share her views. I’d love to know your thoughts and if you’re using gamfication as part of your internal comms.

Jargon buster: Gamification is “the use of game elements to promote desired behaviours among customers and employees”

I’ll hand you over to Jo…

The gamification conundrum

After a lengthy stint as a generalist I re-joined internal communications in 2016. It was great to get back to my starting point and I was busy researching ideas for an internal communication campaign that would feel different.

The idea of gamification surfaced – thanks to my ICT colleagues – which appeared to offer a novel internal communications channel that had the potential to generate excitement and a way to supplement the existing internal channels.

As a passionate internal communications practitioner, the idea that gamification was as a potential tool for internal communications was instantly attractive.

With a rise in the adoption of gamification predicted for internal communications, it appeared that gamification is very much on trend.

Its growing importance was underlined by the launch in 2010 of the Gamification Research Network. There were examples of internal communications using gamification, though limited, in both the business and the public sectors, which led me to think that it was about to become a contemporary addition to existing internal communications practice.

Sure, gamification has comprehensively been exploited as a teaching tool and a marketing device but from my research into public relations it came up short.

Gamification had not permeated the language of communications, particularly internal communications.

Yes, there is reference to it by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (including in the book Share This Too – Rachel). And some news articles suggest that gamification offers internal communications a potential tool to increase internal business innovation, build stronger more productive teams, retain staff and improve performance and support internal organisational dialogue, but tested research was on the whole difficult to find.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: Is gamification a winner for employee engagement?

Gamification with prospects
I was drawn to the idea that gamification had prospects. It may be particularly attractive for practitioners searching for internal communication approaches which respond to the communication preferences of existing workforces, irrespective of their demographic and the people described as Generation Z, the most recent newcomers to the workplace.

What I needed was more evidence.

So, I ran a trial of a free online facial recognition game to see what it could contribute as an internal communications channel. I wanted to find out how enjoyable people found the game, did it get in the way of their work, did it help them bond with their colleagues, and could it ever be a channel?

The experience was fascinating. My willing volunteers provided me with lots of information! They did think, as I did, that applying gamification to a task made it enjoyable, engaging and fun. It added pleasure to a work activity, which some found a difficult balance – is communicating in a workplace meant to be fun?

But the volunteers also surfaced some other issues that internal communications practitioners need to think about before embarking, as I had done, into the world of gamification.

Gamification relies on the data you input, so you need to be sure your source data is of great quality.

If you’re going to show images of people in your gamification you need to think about unconscious bias amongst players, will it affect them, and will it affect your campaign objectives? You also need to think what is an acceptable level of immersion.

Do you want to introduce gamification that draws people away from their day-to-day tasks?  For some playing in work time just felt wrong, somehow frivolous even which made people ask whether this should be endorsed by organisations.  But on the flip side, if you were to apply gamification to every internal campaign, would that just lead to boredom – I suspect so.

So, though I do acknowledge that the idea of gamification for internal communications could simply be a fashion, I remain convinced that it has the potential to respond to the evolving needs of the internal communications audience.

But beware internal communication practitioners, if you’re reaching for research on the subject you will very likely come away empty-handed.

What I’d love to see is more research into this area. Any willing takers?

Post author: Jo Bland.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: Negotiating the wasteland – why internal comms is just like Fallout.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Jo. What do you think? Do Tweet her @jobland3 with your views.

Read more about gamification:

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Thank you for stopping by,


First published on the All Things IC blog 11 January 2018.

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