Gamification: Why We Need Some Fun in the Workplace

Karl Marx, the eponymous figure of Communism and an iconoclast of capitalism, was known for his harsh criticism of capitalists and their enterprises. During the industrial revolution, business owners had set up shops where workers are treated as commodities, not human resources. When workers come in, basically, they lose their sense of humanity. Marx called this alienation. Alienation of workers was so rampant and employers were so greedy, the only way out was to call for a revolution.

In this day and age, an updated version of Marx would have raised an issue on a workplace that contributes to poor morale and motivation, has high-stress levels, and most of all, putting employees in a mechanized routine—the equivalency of modern alienation.

We will not, however, go to lengths to call for a revolution; instead, we would just ask for a revamp. Ask how a revamp will go about, a good portion of the modern workforce would like to have more opportunities to have fun.

For all intents and purposes, Gamification is about injecting fun into an otherwise monotonous and dull activity.

So what’s the deal with having fun?

In the workplace, having fun is the only behavioral trait that could bring more benefits than problems, at least if “fun” is applied in the right manner and in a proper context.

Many management research studies consider fun to produce various positive outcomes. First, it reduces stress. Humor, in particular, helps reduce tension in the workplace and re-energizes the team, enhancing overall productivity. Second, it enhances the professional relationship within a workgroup. It brings them closer together and creates more cohesion and dynamism. It helps improve creativity. And it energizes people to keep up with the long hours. And lastly, perhaps most importantly, fun and humor are powerful tools that improve morale (and in some instances, improve motivation).

Having fun in the workplace, according to Chris Robert, an assistant professor of management at the University of Missouri, believes can actually have a positive effect on productivity and employee retention. Their study reinforces a fact of life we already know: that you become more comfortable in a situation or environment the moment you have fun with people in the same situation/environment. “Fun” then works across different cultures because it makes people feel better about each other, which leads to an improved sense of doing business together.

There is also strong evidence that points to the strong relationship between fun and positive emotions. This adds to another set of theories that suggest a strong correlation between positive emotion and workplace performance.

Implementing opportunities to have fun in the organization is advantageous across the board. Managers in hospitals, coalmines, building sites, schools, shop floors, etc implement some kind of fun activities to prevent employees from going nuts.

Having fun is closely related to resistance—perhaps in the same spirit as Marx’s workers’ revolution—so as to feel some sense of normalcy. If Karl Marx’s revolution was to prevent worker’s alienation, modern corporate employees just want to have fun to assert their freedom and not to become drown in pressure. People want informality outside the constraints of their management. In short, they just don’t want to feel like a spoke in a machine.

Michael Kerr, the author of the book The Humor Advantage, said that having fun is dependent on the workplace culture. The more innovative the culture encourages people to be, the higher their need to have fun. So this does not entirely translate to organizational misbehavior; rather it is a reflection of the company’s ideologies for its human resources. Fun among employees is a by-product of a relaxed environment and workplace culture.

Based on this, we would have better appreciation with companies like Zappos and Southeast Airlines to actually encourage and integrate organic fun in their workplace environment. Fun culture is part of their growth that helps brand their business, attract and retain employees, and attracts customers. Such companies that recognize fun as beneficial also cite the behavior as one of the success factors that lower turnover intentions.

From a theoretical foundation, a glut of research immediately shows that fun gives more benefits to the organization. The core idea of Gamification is to create a standard process into inducing fun in the workplace, which is to tap an individual’s natural tendency for gaming and playing. But the overall objective, among other things, is to reduce stress, enhance creativity, improve the cohesion of workgroups, and build a more positive environment.


11 Reasons Workplace Fun Isn't of the Devil (2013) CUTimes


Klein, K.E. (2007) Humor in the Workplace. Businessweek.