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Employee Engagement and Gamification

Winnipeg Lunch and Learn, March 15, 2016 in conjunction with MCCA

Managers face serious tasks, problems, and challenges. They require a fully
engaged workforce, yet Gallup has revealed that engagement levels may be
as low as 30 percent around the globe. Gamification is rapidly being
integrated into our contemporary ways of working, along with employee
engagement and social media. Join David Zinger on March 15, 2016 at MCCA’s Lunch and Learn to find out how gamification plays into employee engagement!

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To read David Zinger’s cover article for ASTD on gamification for managers click this link: A Primer on Gamification for Managers

David Zinger is an employee engagement expert and speaker who believes that gamification helps us a lot with the inevitable progress and setback experiences at work.

Employee Engagement Gamification For Work and Well-being Made Simple

Are you game for a simple approach to improve engagement with work and well-being? 10 Lessons for Gamification.

Based on David Zinger’s personal experience this post offers you a simple and lean approach to using gamification for engagement. Although it is an experiment with just one person it offers some tangible evidence of how gamification can improve both work and well-being and how an experiment can help us improve the process of gamification. The post also offers you a glimpse into gamification based on a real experience and offers you a pathway to gamification that can be conducted at almost zero cost and does not require a training course to implement.

Reading Time: 4 minutes and 55 seconds

Year of Points button

At times, I have struggled to start major projects. At times, I find that either my work or well-being begins to wane. At times, I wonder what I have accomplished. At times, I wonder if drudgery (as I define it) can be used to enhance well-being. At times, I wonder if my childhood love of pinball has any relevance for my work and well-being. This lead me to the conclusion that the time was right to personally experiment with the gamification of work and well-being. I believe we should never ask anyone to do what we are not prepared to do ourselves and I know I had advocated for the place of gamification in work and well-being.

It is interesting to me that although I am self-employed I can be disengaged. We often fail to see the disengagement of the self-employed when we believe organizations are responsible for engagement. There were also times that I let my efforts towards personal well-being languish. I needed some structural help with my work and well-being and decided that the gamification of these two key elements of my life could be helpful. I have been amazed at just how helpful this has been.

  • I am more productive.
  • I have eliminated most procrastination around big projects.
  • I enjoy my work more.
  • I found well-being in doing housework and Costco shopping, two activities I previously loathed.
  • I have triggered additional social contribution/donations.

Overall, I learned that games are so much more than just a trivial pursuit.

During 2014, I have been conducting a one year experiment on the gamification of work and well-being. In fact, some of the work goes back to 2012 with an elaborate approach to planning, monitoring, and measuring my work and well-being. Although many people play games as diversions from work I was more interested in applying the principle of games to be help me immerse more fully into both my work and well-being.

I continue to use a gamified approach to my work and well-being but I have greatly simplified the process and procedures.

Two factors were at play in the evolutionary simplicity. The first was my overall approach to employee engagement and work being based on the principles of: small, simple, significant, sustainable, and strategic. I must practice what I teach. I realized that my game was too elaborate and time consuming and needed to be simpler and smaller to be sustainable.

I believe that in our “crazybusy” lives that small is the new significantJane McGonigal, one of the world’s leading experts on gamification, states that, overall, games have four traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. Everything else is extra.

The second influence was the publication of my May cover story for ASTD’s Training and Development Magazine: Game On: A Primer on Gamification for Managers. In that article I shared a gamification approach used by Charles M Schwab from over 100 years ago (gamification is a lot older and simpler than many people think!)

Charles M. Schwab, the American steel magnate, in the early 1900s wrote about the practice of gamification in Succeeding With What You Have. He recounted the following story.

Schwab was concerned about production in one of his steel mills and asked the day foreman for the production number, or “heats” produced, by the day shift. It was six, so Schwab grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote a large number six on the floor. The night shift saw the number and asked about the meaning of it. Upon hearing that Schwab had put down six for the productivity of the day shift, the night shift competed hard and, based on their productivity, they erased the number before morning and put down seven.

The day shift, getting into the “game,” completed 10 heats and very quickly this mill, formerly the poorest producer, was turning out more than any other mill in the plant. With minimal application of a goal, rules, feedback system, and voluntary participation, the “game” greatly enhanced the productivity of this workforce more than a century ago. Who would have thought that Schwab was an early work-gamification designer even if he never used the word?

I realized how lean and simple gamification could really be. Just because there are lots of bells and whistles or huge epic massive multi-player online quests does not mean you need these things to have a good game. Gamification for work and well-being must be designed with the purpose you have in mind. Here were my 6 purposes:

  1. to bring a concrete daily focus to work and well-being
  2. to improve and get better with both my work and well-being
  3. to approach my work and well-being from a playful perspective and blur the lines between work and play
  4. to apply gamification to monitor and heighten the experience of progress while diminishing the disengagement of setbacks
  5. to ensure engaged work and well-being was triggered multiple times every day
  6. to have my results be bigger than myself by triggering a social contribution based on points accumulated through play

It was time for me to remove and reduce the extraneous bells and whistles in my game and thereby strengthen its focus, power, and purpose. The next two images show the evolution of the game from what it was to what it is. A short description about the game is above each image.

Version 1: This is the initial version of the game. The game board was a fresh PowerPoint slide created each day.  It had lots of colors and moving parts. There were goals, points, bonus points, and a hive like structure. I filled in the hive cells with every 24 minutes of work or wellbeing once achieved (yellow for work and green for well-being).  I thought it might make a nice mobile app but I began to wonder if it could not be a lot simpler. In addition, the Pomodoro technique that I discovered the third year into my experiment has already built apps that can be used for this purpose. Sometimes I seemed to be spending more time on the game dynamics than time on meaningful work and well-being.

Version 2: Below is  a scanned page from my current gamification of work and well-being. In some ways, it hardly looks like a game at all yet it elegantly fulfills my 6 purposes. The game board is a physical notebook, completed by hand and and I experienced a power and trigger in having a very tangible game book that I can carry around. I reduced the time periods of work and well-being from 24 minutes to 15 minute increments – this makes it easier to start each period, knowing I only have to go for 15 minutes (I have learned how much can be done with just 15 minutes — it still amazes me). I also experienced how refreshing a nap of just 15 minutes could be. Each 15 minute period awards 15 points which translates to a social donation of one cent a point. Yes, this is not a large amount of money but I found if the amount was 10 cents a point it did not work as well as one cent a point. For example, on Thursday October 30 I donated $100.40 to the Red Cross to support Ebola work based on work and well-being points accumulated over the past two months.

Sample Page from Work and Well-being Gamification Experiment

Sample Page from Work and Well-being Gamification Experiment

Here are 10 lessons learned from a year a gamification. I trust these could be helpful to you if you are thinking of gamifying your work or well-being:

  1. Just start, because in the starting the learning begins
  2. Games don’t have to be complex to be powerful
  3. Games can be more than escape, they can immerse you into your own work and well-being
  4. Experience is still one of the greatest teachers and don’t be afraid to change or modify things as you go along
  5. Always think about the purpose or the intent of the game and don’t let the game divert you from your purpose
  6. Never overlook the power of elegant simplicity
  7. Take ownership of your game design because you will then get exactly what you want and need
  8. Games can be a terrific mechanism to help us navigate through setbacks and progress or our real life game of snakes and ladders
  9. Gamification can contribute to social responsibility and contribution
  10. My gamification was used to create this post. It took seven 15-minute periods and it will contribute $1.05 towards a social contribution.

David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert who believes we must practice what we teach. His love of pinball at sixteen is paying dividends in his gamification of work and well-being at 60.

Employee Engagement: How to use gamification to climb Mount Everest (almost).

Being game for work and wellbeing

(Reading time 4 minutes and 30 seconds)

Year of Points button

I have themed 2014 as a year of points. I am further extending my work on using the principles and practices of gamification for work and wellbeing. In a future post, I will provide an update of the daily game board I use to plan and track my time and performance to enhance  work and wellbeing.

For this post I want to outline a three week gamification of fitness. The Winnipeg Winter Club where I workout has a mean looking machine called Jacob’s Ladder. It is like a 40 degree angled treadmill with the tread being replaced by ladder rungs. It is exhausting and you feel a bit like Sisyphus as you climb a ladder and get nowhere, but it is a great workout. The first time I tried the ladder back in January I could only do a couple of minutes before being fatigued.

For the month of February my fitness club challenged members to climb 29, 029 feet, or the equivalent of the elevation of Mount Everest on Jacob’s Ladder. I decided this was a game, even at fifty-nine years of age, I wanted to play. I knew to be successful I needed to gamify the process and was ultimately successful in taking just twenty days from the time I started to making it to the summit.

Here was how I approached the task based on gamification ideas and practices:

Compelling narrative. I was not climbing a ladder I was participating in an adventure to get to the top of Everest. A strong compelling narrative often keeps people glued to a movie or a game. In this case, I kept imaging I was getting to the top of Everest. I wasn’t delusional but it made climbing the steps more fun.

Mount Everest

Being social. I didn’t climb with someone else but my daughter, Katharine, was my fitness buddy in another challenge at the club. Her support and knowing I was scoring points for us as a team was very helpful. I used almost daily updates on social media to report on my progress to make myself accountable to people who follow me and to gather energy and encouragement from their support. And of course, I kept broadcasting my success to my wife and sons.

Making progress. Progress is engaging while setback are disengaging. I did not wait until I arrived at the “summit” to celebrate. I printed out a Wikipedia list of all the mountain peaks around the world so I had the progress of reaching the elevation of over 1000 peaks along the way. Also I scored 10 points for a bigger fitness competition each day I completed ten or more minutes on the ladder.

Meaningful. This game was meaningful to me. For gamification to work and be sustainable the game must be meaningful to the player. Virtually climbing Mount Everest would not be either compelling or meaningful to many people but as someone who lived their whole life on the prairies it had always been a whimsical desire to climb the world’s tallest peak. Given everything else in my life this was about as close as I was going to get to achieving that desire.

Novelty. From one perspective I was just climbing a ladder to nowhere and that can be very fatiguing and boring. I enhanced novelty in the game by working at different paces and with different lengths of climbing. One day I climbed for 28 minutes and covered 1816 feet — this climb was the equivalent of climbing the CN Tower in Toronto (it must have been a foggy day as the view on Jacob’s Ladder never seemed to actually change).

Keeping track. I used a notebook to keep track of time, steps, and speed. Monitoring the climb with the different numbers derived was motivating while keeping me on track and preventing a fitness goal derailment.

Celebrate. I did celebrate success of the goal achieved by opening a small bottle of bubbly champagne and toasting the feat with Jeff, the fitness director, in a couple of small paper cone cups. We should always make time to celebrate progress as this helps to mentally install all the benefits of our accomplishments.

Benefits beyond the game. I like games that are immersions rather than diversions. By this I mean the game has real world benefits and is not merely a distraction from work and life. This game increased my fitness, helped me shed about 10 pounds, and feel more energized each day.

The game as a booster rather than an end in itself. Sometimes the trouble with gamification is that it begins to lose its impact over time. Now that I was successful will this mean I stop using the ladder and let my fitness entropy to previous levels. To overcome this I am now planning to climb the equivalent of the 7 summits of the world over the next year. It won’t be as intensive as the last month but it will make the progress and fitness sustainable over a long period of time. As we begin to approach the end of a helpful and positive gamification of work or wellbeing it is quite helpful to ask ourselves: what come’s next? Just because the game ended doesn’t mean the practice and benefits should also end.

Are you game? How can you integrate the practices outline above into your own work and wellbeing to foster greater engagement in achieving a result that matters to you or your work group?

Many small steps are one giant step. In summary it was 29,029 small steps for David and one giant step for the application of gamification to better work and wellbeing.

David Zinger Employee Engagement Speaker

David Zinger is a Canadian employee engagement speaker and expert who believes in the benefits of gamification as a powerful tool for greater engagement.

Employee Engagement Friday Factoid #22: The Future of Gamification

Are you game?

In a survey by Pew Research Center, 53% of people surveyed said that, by 2020, the use of gamification will be widespread, while 42% predicted that, by 2020, gamification will not evolve to be a larger trend except in specific realms. Gamification 2020: What Is the Future of Gamification?


There is a strong connection between employee engagement and gamification. My friend, Siddhesh Bhobe from Persistent and the CEO of eMee showed me a fine demonstration of this in Pune, India two weeks ago.

Are you using gamification where you work? Do you see yourself using gamification to increase engagement? I go with the 52% who think gamification will be widespread as the technology and design improves. Games are engaging: You only have to fly overseas and walk up down an airplane aisle on an eight hour flight to see how many people are playing games on their computers, tablets, and smartphones to recognize how pervasive gamification is becoming.

David Zinger is a global employee engagement expert who is pathetic with Angry Birds but who uses gamification to enhance and enliven his own work and wellbeing.


Number 3 – Gamification and Employee Engagement (Five Zingers From 2012)

Number 3 of the top 5 blog posts from David Zinger 2012

A personal quest to improve work and well-being through the principles of engagement and gamification

Buzz for the 2012 Experiment. I have been playing with engagement, gamification, work, and well-being this year. I still have 3 months to go but I thought I would let readers know about the success I have been experiencing by creating a low tech game to increase my work accomplishment and enhance my overall well-being. Of course, given my love for the ways honeybees work it is based on the visual of honeycomb construction.

24 minute cells. One mechanism I am using to enhance my thinking, work, and well-being is to chunk my work or well-being periods into 24 minute cells. I find that I can sustain better engagement and thinking,  there is a quick end in sight, I gather energy by shifting to other tasks with the next 24 minutes, and I experience an engaging sense of progress. It is amazing what you can think of and accomplish in 24 minutes, and using multiple 24 minute blocks each day builds a strong sustained experience of accomplishment and progress.

I have gone game for better thinking, work, and well-being. I have made a game out of my work and well-being. Each 24 minute cell completed is worth 10 points. I work to achieve 400 points each  week. There are 100 bonus points available each week to turbocharge my work or well-being on challenging tasks. At the start of the day I determine my 3 daily goals and put the task I will work on in at least 6 cells. As each 24 minute period is completed I color the cell yellow for work and green for well-being.

Work and well-being ratios. My overall ratio of work to well-being is 2 cells of work for 1 cell of well-being from Monday to Friday. On the weekend I reverse this to 2 cells of well-being for 1 cell of work. The collected points at the end of specific period of time (often 2 or 3 months) is redeemed by me to make a charitable donation so that the game goes beyond myself and additional meaning is attached to the completion of each cell.

Game platform. The platform for the game is very simple, I use a PowerPoint slide for each day and I have a weekly slide to set goals for the week and monitor progress from the previous week. At the end of the year or early in 2013 I will offer greater detail on how to construct and play this game to enhance your work and well-being while also collecting points to trigger charitable donations.

Here is a screen shot of one slide from September 17, 2012:

David Zinger is a global employee engagement expert who applied principles of engagement and games to enhance his personal work and well-being.

Employee Engagement and the Game of Strong Progress

Employee Engagement: Making Progress with Strengths

The pyramid of employee engagement is a 10 block model of employee engagement. Here is a link to a 50 page booklet on the pyramid. After completing the strengths inventory, Strengthscope, from Strengths Partnership in the UK,  I embarked on a systematic application of my 7 significant strengths to each of the 10 blocks of the pyramid. This will make my engagement work more robust while also enhancing personal wellbeing through the application of strengths in the service of others. There are 10 posts in this series. To learn more, take the strengthscope yourself, and to be interactive on strengths and engagement plan to attend an educational workshop in London on the importance of strengths for innovation and excellence with a fusion of the pyramid of employee engagement.

Making Progress and Creativity


Making progress is a significant contributor to engagement for knowledge workers. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer did some ground breaking work on progress and motivation in their research for the book, The Progress Principle.  We must guard against setbacks and achieve progress, even small wins.

To turbocharge progress for myself I have been applying my creativity strength from my significant 7 strengths to progress and created a work and wellbeing game for 2012. The game platform is a PowerPoint deck and the purpose of the game is to achieve greater work output while also enhancing wellbeing.  To see an outline of what I have done so far, click here.

I have enjoyed applying creativity to the construction of a personal and meaningful way to plan and monitor progress. I divided my work into 24 minute time periods and I strive to achieve 6 of these periods most days at work. I have worked hard to ensure that progress is achieved on a daily basis and that setbacks are temporary. I have given myself 100 bonus points every week to accelerate progress. To minimize setbacks, if I fail to achieve the 24 minute periods for more than 3 days in a row I scale back the time to 18 minutes.

The game is simple, yet meaningful to me, and has helped me to achieve results through a playful combination of progress and creativity. Here is a slide I used for one of my days of work and wellbeing:

To learn more about your 7 strengths and how they can be applied to work, wellbeing, innovation, and excellence plan to attend the London UK Strength and Engagement Workshop Wednesday November 28 from 13:00 to 18:00:

London Workshop on Strength Based Approaches to Leadership

I invite you to attend an afternoon workshop sponsored by Strengths Partnership on The Leaders Role in Optimising Strengths and Engagement to Achieve Innovation and Excellence. I will be presenting/facilitating on the Pyramid of Employee Engagement and Michael Farry, HR Director for PhotoBox, will also be presenting on how to build a culture of positive leadership, collaboration and innovation through a systematic, practical and integrated change and development programme.

For a modest fee of £75 plus VAT, you will receive:

  •  Entrance to the conference and networking over drinks after the event
  •  An opportunity to take the Strengthscope360™ profiler and receive feedback
  •  A free leadership book entitled “Stretch – Leading Beyond Boundaries”
  •  Delegate pack containing proven and practical tools to help optimise workforce strengths and engagement at the individual, team and organisational levels
  •  An invitation to join the Strengths HR Forum (over 1,300 members) and the Employee Engagement Network (over 5,000 members)

To register click here.

Next Post in the Series: Employee Engagement: Strengthening Relationships

David Zinger is an employee engagement expert. He will be in the UK in late November to support the Go Live event for the UK Employee Engagement Task Force and to co-lead an afternoon workshop on the fusion of employee engagement and strengths for innovation and excellence.

Boosting Employee Engagement: 9 Lessons from the Winnipeg Jets

9 lessons from the Winnipeg Jets for Employee Engagement

Are you game? Last week I attended my first Winnipeg Jets hockey game. It is a challenge to get tickets as the 15,000 seats are always sold and the season tickets sold out in a couple of minutes for the first 3 or 4 years. Thanks to my neighbour Andy, who knew someone, my wife and I finally got to a game with the Winnipeg Jets playing the Boston Bruins. We (notice the sense of identification) beat the Bruins, the Stanley Cup champions, 4 to 2. But the real story for this employee engagement site is the lessons we can learn from the Jets for employee engagement. To have a positive impact on engagement you don’t need to read another business or leadership book, you may just need to look at thing right in front of you and look for the lessons that apply to employee engagement. Engagement is the strength of connection to work, results, the organizations, and each other.

Lesson 1: An engaging story. Winnipeg lost their NHL franchise to Phoenix about 15 years ago. This season we got an NHL team back in Winnipeg. This has become an engaging and classic story of pride, loss, challenge, and victory through return of the team to Winnipeg. This is not quite the Odyssey but it certainly has elements of a very powerful story that fully engages the city of Winnipeg. Even my massage therapist wears a Jets jersey on game day because her young son will not let her leave the house without putting it on. Our logo, of the fighter jet, hints of the battle to win a team back. The feverish passion of Jets fans may be just as much about the narrative story as the players on the ice. What story does your organization tell that engages employees? Are your employees part of the story?

Lesson 2: An engaged brand. The Winnipeg Jets have a wonderful logo and a strong brand. In today’s age though your brand is less what you say it is and more what your customers and employees say it is. The company responsible for bringing the Jets to Winnipeg is True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd. It must thrill their ears before every game during the singing of O Canada to hear 15,000 fans shout out the words TRUE NORTH embedded in the lyrics of O Canada. What would it take for your employees and customers to” shout out” your brand?

Lesson 3: Results. There is general excitement about the team but don’t ever kid yourself, results matter. Results matter for hockey teams and organizations. It made a difference that the final score was 4 to 2 for us (see the identification again, as I wasn’t actually on the ice, I was sitting in the stands). Results must be something not only important to CEO’s and shareholders, results must matter to everyone. Do your employees live or die with your results?

Lesson 4: Performance. Results matter as  does performance. You can’t always control the results but you can give your best to your performance. Fans got very excited by some key performances especially a save by Pavelec, the goalie, in the third period. A strong performance engages not only the performer but people around the performer. Are your employees seeing excellent performance and are those exceptional performances fully recognized? Do employees feed off of the strong performance of others?

Lesson 5: Progress and Set backs. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in The Progress Principle wrote about how important progress is for engagement and that setbacks are very detrimental to engagement. Set backs are two times as powerful as progress so it is vital to prevent and guard against set backs. The Jets are built around solid goalies and strong defense. Is your organization designed to maintain engagement by being built to prevent setbacks that would diminish both progress and engagement?

Lesson 6: Ask and Trigger. The scoreboard at times would ask fans to make noise, as fans would start being loud the scoreboard would then flash:  “LOUDER.” We sometimes overlook the simple approach of asking for what we want. Winnipeg is already one of the loudest places in the NHL. Are you asking and letting employees know that you want more engagement? If you have a very engaged group do you ensure triggers are in place to sustain that engagement?

Lesson 7: Keeping score. The scoreboard, at all sporting events, is a key element of the game. We knew how many shots each team had taken. We knew how much time was left in the game or in penalties. We knew the score. This is a fine example of a key principle of games. 2011 was a strong year for looking at the gamification of work. Do your employees have a scoreboard or dashboard where they can keep score? Are you utilizing the principles of gamification to enhance engagement?

Lesson 8: Offer feedback. Aligned with keeping score is the process of feedback. One area that has experienced a tremendous boost because of feedback is the 50/50 draw. When the Jets were here 15 years ago the 50/50 was often not that large by today’s standards. Technology now makes it possible to watch the pot grow every second and this has provided a huge increase in sales because of the power of feedback to trigger behavior. Are your employees getting frequent and timely  feedback to encourage more engagement?

Lesson 9: The wave. Yes we can be prompted to make noise or buy 50/50 tickets but it is still powerful to see fans work out their own game within a game. The wave has been circling around stadiums for years but it is intriguing to watch as people work at getting others out of their seats, with their hands waved in the air, while creating a sense of movement around the arena. There were a number of failed attempts yet persistence on the part of the initiators eventually got the wave circling around the arena. Do you set up the conditions so the community in your workplace can start and create their own waves of engagement? Are the social media tools in place so people can connect with each others?

Conclusion. This was nine lessons from the Winnipeg Jets. Next time you are reading a book or at an event pay close attention and look for lessons that can enhance your engagement and work. Of course, be careful of flying pucks. Go Jets Go

David Zinger is an employee engagement expert and a fan of the Winnipeg Jets. He founded and hosts the 4600 member global Employee Engagement Network. If you would like to learn more about engagement visit his website or contact him at