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How Gamification and Rewards Work to Improve Compliance

Five years ago, enterprise gamification was all the rage. Today, that initial excitement has died down, in part due to technologies not demonstrably delivering the epic gains in productivity and compliance they initially promised. The truth is that gamification isn’t a silver bullet. It won’t solve organizational woes on its own. However, it can be a powerful tool when organizations combine it with sufficient, tangible incentives.

This combination can be especially potent for companies looking to improve compliance with travel policies. Many companies struggle to control travel and entertainment (T&E) costs. According to the Global Business Travel Association, spend on business travel related activity reached $1.3 trillion in 2017 and is projected to hit $1.7 trillion by 2022. Companies traditionally have had two options for addressing high costs and overspending: accept them or set restrictive policies that hurt employee satisfaction. The combination of gamification and a reward system presents a third path.

This method of promoting compliance is less harsh than tight policies and spending limits. When it works, it does so without risking dissatisfaction among employees. To understand why, it’s necessary to look at the psychology of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This will also help to illustrate why gamification must be combined with a system of rewards in order to work.

Two types of motivation 

Psychologists have identified two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation stems from an individual’s existing desires and dispositions. Exercising because it feels good, reading a book because it’s interesting, and committing to a job for the love of the challenge are all examples of intrinsic motivation.

By contrast, extrinsic motivation relies on a reward or punishment to influence behavior. Extrinsic motivation can be understood as overriding a person’s natural inclinations, making it useful for driving large behavioral shifts. Extrinsic motivation comes into play a lot in the workplace. For example, salary and benefits are the two most ubiquitous forms of extrinsic motivation for employees. 

Where does gamification fall?

 Companies are hard pressed to motivate employees to comply with travel policies. As mentioned above, the best enforcement tools many companies have available are ones that harm employee satisfaction and engagement. Unfortunately, there’s no intrinsic motivation to be compliant. Employees don’t typically comply with travel policies because they find compliance personally fulfilling.

Companies look to gamification to address this puzzle by introducing intrinsic motivation where there previously was weak extrinsic motivation or even none at all. It plays on people’s natural inclinations toward fun, socializing, and friendly competition. Gamification includes achievements, such as points and leaderboards, which employees earn through compliance with company policies. One company utilizing this concept is Rocketrip, the travel booking platform that rewards cost savings. In addition to their rewards, they include a social feed, which enables travelers to see how they stack up against their coworkers. 

The idea is that while people may still be unmotivated to strive for compliance on its own, they will seek out the other promises of gamification and rewards, and they will become more compliant as a side effect.

Where gamification can be uniquely successful is in fortifying behavioral shifts that are created through extrinsic motivation. If the desired behavior is compliance with travel policies, extrinsic motivation is a reward for said compliance. This positive reinforcement is inherently stronger than a negative consequence for failing to be compliant.

If employees use a gamified and rewarding platform for their travel activities, intrinsic motivation will enter the equation as well. Not only will they have a strong reason to be compliant, but the act of compliance itself will become enjoyable through gamification’s social and competitive nature.

Choosing the right reward

The strength of the reward that drives the initial shift toward compliance will positively correlate with the number of employees that immediately adopt the new platform or policy. A strong reward will mean easier and quicker adoption.

 When it comes to offering strong rewards, companies have more resources at their fingertips than they may realize. When employees are compliant, it saves the organization money by definition. Companies can spend a piece of this savings on material, even financial, rewards for their employees and still end up in the black. These meaningful rewards provide strong extrinsic motivation and encourage adoption.


 To enforce compliance with travel policies, companies need to understand how motivation works. Simply tightening budgets will harm employee satisfaction and engagement. On the other hand, utilizing both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation will have the opposite effect, while boosting compliance.

Gamification can play a valuable role in this process, but it’s important to understand how it works, rather than deploying it as a one-size-fits-all solution. Extrinsic motivation in the form of tangible rewards will precipitate compliance in the first place, and gamification will strengthen it and provide longevity.

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All Tags: Compliance, Gamification,

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