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why gamification for new hire training works

Why Gamification for Onboarding/New Hire Training Works

One of the most important outcomes of new hire training is an employee who feels integrated into the team and believes that their role has purpose. To develop a sense of welcome and value, a new employee needs to experience the part they will play in the bigger story. A gamification approach works in an employee onboarding program because it allows a new employee to begin exploring a day-in-the-life of a new role on day one.

Eases Anxiety and Fear

One tool in the gamification toolbox is the sandbox. This gamification technique creates a safe space for new employees to practice new skills. New employees won’t have expertise in all the responsibilities of their new job. If they did, on-the-job training wouldn’t need to exist in the first place. This means mistakes should be anticipated and even expected.

A sandbox approach to gamification can allow new employees to encounter potential issues and learn from them without real-world consequences. Within this simulated environment new employees practice making decisions and performing tasks, and then see the consequences of their actions in a risk-free environment. Providing a sandbox tells new employees mistakes are expected, and they have permission to take their time and practice. Mistakes can be made, or tough questions can be asked without fear of embarrassment or failure. This eases anxiety and fear by removing the fight, flee, or freeze instinct. The question you don’t get when making a real-world mistake is, “Would you like to try that again?” A sandbox can allow for that.

Provides Motivation to Learn

As mentioned above, a simulated, sandbox environment allows new employees to practice making decisions and performing tasks, and then see the consequences of their actions in a risk-free environment. Strategically planning how, when, and where those consequence show up can set the stage for “motivation boosters.” Consider the Octalysis framework.

Octalysis Framework Gamification Design

Octalysis is a gamification design framework that posits that eight core driving forces motivate us to take action, both in the real world, and virtual ones.

1: Epic Meaning and Calling

This core drive comes into play when learners feel they are working towards something greater than themselves. In gamification, this might look like saving a princess (or puppy?), or all of humanity. Implementing this drive into new hire training could be tied to the value the new hire brings to the company as a whole.

2: Development and Accomplishment

You might recognize this core drive in the badges, leaderboards, or certificates of completion found in some training programs. Human beings naturally desire to overcome obstacles and achieve mastery.

3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback

The sandbox approach is perfect for empowering learners to feel creative and receive immediate feedback. By providing the ability to choose different paths and discover the results, new employees feel more engaged with the material, and as a result, more likely to recall it.

4: Ownership and Possession

Hi T.J., welcome to [Course Name] at [Your Company Name]. Just asking a learner to type their name into a course when they begin and using it throughout the course will trigger the ownership and possession drive. So will allowing them to create their own avatars. When we feel ownership over our virtual world (or real one), we are motivated to improve it. In new hire training, this looks like successful completion of the program.

5: Social Influence and Relatedness

The core drive of social influence and relatedness is easy to build into new hire orientation, since multiple employees generally complete employee onboarding together. Winning tokens or rewards and allowing players to gift them to one other is a possible technique.

6: Scarcity and Impatience

Many addictive apps and games use the technique of making free items available every hour to get people to come back. “Get it while supplies last!” is a marketing tactic easy to recognize. In new hire training, offering a special reward to a person or group of people who complete a challenge first would kick this core drive into high gear.

7: Unpredictability and Curiosity

The sandbox approach is also ideal in triggering the curiosity core drive because of the unpredictable nature of the feedback to learner’s decisions and actions.

8: Loss and Avoidance

As mentioned above, incorporating gamification into your training curriculum eases anxiety by mitigating the loss and avoidance core drive and creating a safe learning environment.

Gamification can bring learner-directed nuance to the story. Some may experience the happy path only, motivated to earnestly consider each decision they make so they get it right. Some learners will undoubtedly experience the worst consequence, trying to move quickly, then feeling the pain. They may then be motivated to go back and see how to avoid the worst, which they most likely won’t want to experience in real life. Strategically employing a gamification approach will addresses a variety of learner personas and motivations.

Sets the Cultural Tone

Using gamification in an onboarding program also sets an inviting tone to a work environment. First impressions can’t be made twice. Onboarding is a new employee’s first impression of what it’s like to work for a company. Often, they are forced to endure a day to a week-long parade of business partners talking at them about less-than-captivating topics like benefits and compliance.

If the first introduction to a new role is unfeeling and mechanical, that can subversively set a negative tone on the value of the work our learner is going to be doing. A gamified onboarding experience, on the other hand, sets the opposite tone. Not only does it make new employees active participants in their onboarding experience, it communicates other important messages about how the company values them. Gamification shows the learner the company invested in their training, which is an investment in the new employee. Feeling valued contributes to a sense of job satisfaction, which promotes job performance and prevents employee turnover.

Speeds Time to Proficiency and Reduces Errors

Designing gamified eLearning that lets the learner explore the content allows them quickly self-direct to content they need to review or take their time with and skip the content that they are already proficient in. Games are also a place where learners can experience “what if” scenarios once they are comfortable with the basics.

In the below screenshot from an eLearning course for a healthcare organization, the learner can choose between two “what if” options. What happens if she decides to assume the scenario that just played out was appropriate? What if she decides to speak to a supervisor instead?

Gamification in New Hire Training

Gamification can bring the job to life and highlight keys to success, all of which allow a new employee to get up to speed quickly.


Incorporating elements of gamification in your onboarding process can take your program from good to great. At the most basic level, gamification makes a monotonous onboarding experience an engaging journey by turning the typically passive new job transition into an interactive, real-life simulated experience. This gets them job-ready faster, inspires them to perform better, and motivates them to stay longer.

As a result, new employees perceive their new company as a really great place to work. At the same time, companies see an increase in employee retention, performance and productivity.