Anita Theis
Anita Theis 12 May 2016

The Power of Competition – Using Gamification to Motivate Employees

When I talk to people and companies in my role as business advisor, most of them agree that employees are one of the most important factors in an organization, and empowering and engaging said employees should be of higher priority within their strategy. 

Nevertheless, they often do not see why their employees would want to share company or industry news into their own private networks and how to motivate them to be more engaged with the company's content. Since I get these concerns a lot, and as I have always been interested in motivational factors, I decided to focus this short article on the underlying factors that make your employees want to become an active part in your company’s brand message.

Company culture is the single most important aspect for any employee engagement program: Sharing knowledge and information does not only need to be tolerated, but actively encouraged. Culture is a necessary prerequisite allowing employee engagement to flourish. This cultural shift has to start with management. As the National Business Research Institute states, 84% of employees in the US claim the relationship with their manager to be the top determining factor of whether they try to move up in the company or if they aim to find work elsewhere. At the same time, “companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202%” (Dale Carnegie). While research in this field is plentiful, those two figures alone should give an idea on how important is it to actively engage employees with your brand, mission and vision.

While culture is a difficult thing to change, most organizations are likely to already start out with a group of employees acting as brand ambassadors – sharing company updates with their own networks, and insider knowledge with their colleagues. This group of employees has realized the value of being active in their networks and the importance of being seen as professional experts, allowing them to influence the way their network – and thereby your potential customers – see and perceive the company and brand. Their motivation stems from a feeling of pride to identify with your company and sharing content with others.

On the importance of Gamification & Motivation

We might grow up and become functional members of society, but we keep on wanting to play. We collect reward points at our global-local supermarket, we collect badges when going for a run, and recently I downloaded an app that would actually pay me real money ($$$) for going to the gym and eating healthy.

In a work environment, playing games is mainly associated with competition. We reward high-performing employees with bonuses or incentivize sales associates to book the highest quarterly revenue with prizes. We tend to turn our work duties, that we are paid to do, into games and competitions because of the underlying motivational factors that make employees excel at their work.

In its simplest form, we can be either intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to do something – are we motivated from within, from our work, or are we motivated by external factors, such as monetary rewards, badges or collector’s points?

The aforementioned core group within an organization that is motivated by itself to engage with your company is most likely motivated by internal factors – in order to engage the other part, you might have to look at other motivational and rewarding factors.

Motivational Factors of Employee Engagement

Though often called overused, Maslow’s pyramid of needs can easily be applied to business life. Basic needs, such as physiological factors apply to the salary paid at the end of a term, allowing the employee to afford a basic standard of living, while safety concerns a safe and sound working environment with a certain job security.

Social needs (love/belonging) relates to a company’s culture, a good team spirit and reliable and trustworthy colleagues. Moving towards Esteem and Self-actualization, in a work environment, those needs can be translated to the recognition of achievements and the feeling of appreciation, as well as a challenging and meaningful work environment that enables innovation and creativity, respectively.

Of course, Maslow’s theory falls short on an evidence of a strict hierarchy of those needs, as different cultures and environments favor different factors, as well as several needs can be satisfied simultaneously. In its most basic interpretation, however, Maslow’s pyramid of needs applied to business management indicates the importance of recognition, appreciation and meaningful work, once the basic needs of salary and job security are fulfilled.

Having a look at another motivational theory, Herzberg’s 2-factor theory on motivation defines salary and good pay as merely hygiene factors, implying that those aspects do not provide positive satisfaction or lead to higher employee motivation, whereas motivating factors, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, are recognition, achievement and personal growth.

My boyfriend asked me the other day, whether I was motivated by bonuses at the end of a quarter, but as I told him, it is not actually the money that drives me at work – it actually is the desire of doing and being the best (I know, very un-Scandinavian!). And I am convinced that I am not the odd one out to favor recognition and achievement over a bonus payout.

Achieving success at work and being recognized for those, is for many the most important motivational factor to do their best. At the same time, I am convinced that this is the reason that the app, that wants to pay me to go to the gym, never really worked out for me – the reason to stay healthy comes from somewhere completely unrelated to money.

Using Gamification & Competition for Employee Motivation

I am of course not arguing that money and a good salary aren’t important – after all, it is a clearly measurable factor that - at the end of the month - enables us to see the clear value of our work’s worth. On the other hand, once those basic needs and requirements are met (meaning, we can pay our rent or mortgage and afford a good living), other factors become increasingly important to do our best at work. And this is, when we circle back to competition and gamification at the work place.

The practice of employee advocacy and company-wide social media sharing with our colleagues and own social media networks has a lot to do with competition. While everyone within the team sees what their colleagues are sharing, and a leaderboard indicates the top-performing employees, it is in our human nature to strive to be best – especially, when there are other incentives in play as well. Therefore, besides being a perfect marketing strategy tool, employee advocacy pushes employees to strive towards excellence in many more aspects of their work as well.

Rather than just asking your employees to engage with content and to share it, give them a purpose to do so.

Enabling Friendly Competition

At Newsio, we believe in friendly competition, and we hold weekly contest, rewarding the employee with the highest engagement rate throughout the week. This person does not only get a small price, but above all, that employee gets recognized by our CEO in front of the whole team. This aspect of positive recognition and reinforcement, along with the feeling of achievement, goes a long way for employees. The prizes we can win vary from week to week and are always a surprise, but importantly, they are not a trip to Paris (though that would be nice) or a gift card to one of the many expensive stores around Copenhagen, but they are something small, something that is aimed to keep the spirit up. 
With the help of our leaderboard, which all employees have access to, we can at any time see our place and observe as we climb up the latter accordingly when we become actively engaged. Not only does this give the team the transparency we require in today’s businesses, but also the ability to improve in order to fulfill our need of recognition and doing meaningful work that gets appreciated from top management.

Quality over quantity – who is on top depends on the media value the employee created, not solely on the number of shares or clicks

Recognize Quality – Not Quantity

The healthy competition among employees striving for recognition and achievement of course needs to stay on track with the underlying goal: becoming thought leaders internally, when we become acknowledgeable within our own team, as well as externally, within our professional and personal network. Putting quality over quantity is hereby an important factor to overcome potential oversharing with the sole reason to climb the leaderboard. Make sure you can track more than simple clicks and shares, but actually be able to track the media value your employees create and set up your leaderboard in that way.

From there, you can wait and see your employees starting to work hard to climb up the latter with the hope to become publicly rewarded for their effort and of course, their expertise.

Anita Theis is a Senior Business Advisor at Newsio - a Copenhagen-based Employee Advocacy and Thought Leadership firm. Contact us at  or though mail to if you need help with starting your own Employee Advocacy Program! 

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