According to Jane McGonigal, a game designer from San Francisco and prominent TED presenter, we spend 3 billion hours a week playing video games globally. These aren’t just console games – that game of candy crush you play on the commute home makes you a gamer. While you think you are just passing the time, Jane McGonigal argues we globally need to be playing more games.

Games give a meaningful accomplishment and a clear achievement. There is a structured experience with instant feedback. This is something that’s not always possible in the real world. Using the power of games to help with illness has already been harnessed. Recent studies show games help with chronic pain, recovery from injuries and can reduce stress and depression. Games in general have been shown to have real-life implications. Games improve decision-making skills, enhances creativity, increase cognitive flexibility and increase learning – all essential for the knowledge-based work of today.

Gamification is the use of game mechanics and game thinking in non-game contexts. This is not about creating a game, but rather a “gameful” experience. Rewards can be non-financial, such as badges or points, or have real-life rewards such as a bonus or free coffee. Gamification is now creeping into our everyday lives. Air miles are a type of game-reward, foursquare leaders are able to get discounts at various places. Apps like Khan Academy are gamifying learning, while others like, “Zombies, RUN!” simulates a horde of zombies behind you, presumably in order to motivate you. Self-trackers like FitBit can encourage activity and create competition, or simply social support.

At work, gamification can be applied in many different ways. Studies have shown employees who take part in gamified training retained more factual information for longer (Sitzmann, 2010). Deloitte has gamified their leadership development, applying it to their online learning platform. The website uses badges to mark passing online learning courses, with a leaderboard that resets every week. There was a substantial increase of traffic to the site, with many becoming super-users and earning multiple badges. This shows an increase engagement with learning courses. MI5 use a game for recruitment, as does the US army. Microsoft has launched a game for learning to use their Microsoft office system, called, “Ribbon Hero 2”. It’s free to download and features Clippy the paperclip. Google has gamified its expense system, with any savings from travel tickets donated to a charity of the worker’s choice.

They can also be used in the design of your office. Social influence is a powerful motivator, and could be used to influence green behaviours. One study suggested that simply comparing another work site’s energy efficiency can prompt an increase in green behaviours in the office. SuMo is a mobile app developed by CloudApps promotes various levels and badges by encouraging employees to opt for video conferencing instead of travel or switching off computers in the evening.

Promoting wellbeing is also a big aspect of office design. StepJockey is a system which encourages the use of the stairs, and when combined with an app can accurately track calories burned. Launching a stair challenge across the business which incorporates the competition aspect of games, and can (they claim) increase stair use by 29%. In the future there could be apps that remind you to take a break, suggesting you've been at your desk too long. There are apps currently available such as Headspace that incorporate a social element into practicing mindfulness, with informative animations as well as a narrative storyline. Reminders such as these could be used to support activity-based working with reminders of workplace etiquette. Interacting with the space through technology can create a sense of ownership and engage your employees to use their space more effectively.

However, gamification will not replace good management for a disengaged workforce. Research firm, Gartner, estimates that 80% of gamification attempts will fail. This is mostly due to poor design, focusing on rankings and points rather than emphasising some collaboration and learning. When games are imposed on employees, a lack of buy-in can result in negative feelings towards the organisation. Work is still work, even if you add an achievement.