Using gamification to enhance staff motivation
Jan Hense1, Markus Klevers2, Michael Sailer1, Tim Horenburg2, Heinz
Mandl1 and Willibald Günthner2
1Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Empirical Education and Educational
2Technische Universität München, Institute for Materials Handling, Material Flow and
1 Staff motivation as a key challenge in logistics
Logistics is concerned with effectively managing the flow of materials and sup-
plies for production, commerce and other purposes (Christopher, 2003). Transport
logistics deals with resource flows on a large scale level, as it involves transport
by land, water, and air. A second domain of logistics is intralogistics, which is
concerned with the internal handling of materials and supplies within specific pro-
duction sites or intermediate storage facilities (Arnold, 2006). This paper focuses
on intralogistics or, more specifically, on one of its central tasks, order picking.
Despite ongoing automation efforts, order picking still frequently involves in-
tensive and repetitive manual labour. For fulfilling a customer order, workers
typically receive lists of items to be picked from storage and combined in a ship-
ment. Orders have to be fulfilled under time constraints with as few errors as pos-
sible in shifts which can easily involve dozens of orders. Due to these challenges
and context conditions, and taking into account that order picking is typically per-
formed by low-paid unskilled workers, it is not surprising that staff motivation and
high turnover rates are recurrent problems for efficiency in intralogistics. How-
ever, most optimization approaches in order picking concentrate on technical as-
pects, leaving out the human factor (cf. Coffey, 1999).
This paper introduces gamification as an innovative approach to enhance staff
motivation in intralogistics. Gamification is a recent trend (originally from mar-
keting) that quickly spread to other areas of application such as education and
training, traffic control, or influencing environmental behaviour. Conceptually,
gamification denotes the application of game elements for engagement, motiva-
tion, learning, or problem-solving purposes in non-gaming, real world contexts
(cf. Kapp, 2012, p. 10). As games continually succeed in luring players into in-
vesting large amounts of time and effort, it is expected that some of the mecha-
nisms making them effective entertainment devices can also be used in non-
This paper presents the theoretical background and concept of “GameLog”
(Gamification in intralogistics – Fostering motivation and productivity in order
picking), which is aimed at developing a gamification approach for enhancing mo-
tivation in intralogistics. We first analyze current approaches to staff motivation in
logistics (section 2), afterwards discuss psychological perspectives on fostering
motivation in logistics (section 3) and then introduce gamification and analyze its
potential for motivation in logistics (section 4). Subsequently, we describe the
GameLog project in detail (section 5) and conclude by giving an outlook on its
expected outcomes from practical and research perspectives.
2 Current approaches to staff motivation in logistics
Workers in conventional intralogistical processes like manual order picking (see
Figure 1) or operating fork lifters are faced with the monotonous fulfilment of
steady, recurring tasks. This can lead to fatigue and especially a loss of motivation
in the long-term (ten Hompel, Sadowsky & Beck, 2011). This is supported by a
case study from 2012 in which the motivation of workers in intralogistics is speci-
fied as very low compared to other business tasks (Link, Müller-Dauppert & Jung,
move to the
move to place
move to the (first)
place of picking
identify place of
identify place of
move to (next)
place of picking
transport to place
Figure 1: Process Overview of manual order picking
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be distinguished while designing a moti-
vation system for logistic processes (see chapter 3). The most important variables
(Pfohl, 2004a) within extrinsic motivation salary and working time are primarily
the focus of companies’ management practices. Those salary-based incentive sys-
tems can be divided into performance-related and potential-related salary systems
(Wagner, 1995). While potential-related systems take the qualification for the cer-
tain work task as a basis, performance-related systems rely on surveyed key per-
formance indicators and their correlation to the salary (Pfohl, 2004a). Thus, per-
formance measurement must lead to methodically accepted and reproducible
results. Objective measurement is a basic prerequisite for a salary-based incentive
system (Pulverich & Schietinger, 2009). Additionally, a transparent composition
of basic salary and bonus is essential for the success of the system (Zaunmüller,
Most production companies just concentrate on extrinsic monetary incentives
to increase motivation, but those incentives are commonly considered short-term
instruments (Pfohl, 2004a). In the long-term, motivation-enhancing tools like job
rotation, job enlargement, job enrichment and group work (Jünemann & Sc hmidt,
2000) are rarely used in intralogistics (Link et al., 2012). Comprehensive intrinsic
models are rarely found. The only findings that could be made while reviewing the
literature and applying the research for the GameLog project were the creation of
communication areas such as coffee corners to improve the corporate atmosphere,
the honouring of staff with innovation prices for good ideas and the sensitization
for the produced good to emotionalize the worker and create a certain level of en-
thusiasm (Bundesverband Materialwirtschaft, Einkauf und Logistik, 2008). A
comprehensive incentive system directly connected to the working process and the
measured performance indicators could not be found while working on this re-
search project, although this could influence the motivation of staff in intralogis-
tics more than a simple extrinsic system (Link, Müller-Dauppert & Jung, 2012;
3 Psychological perspectives on fostering motivation in logistics
As current approaches to fostering staff motivation in logistics seem deficient, we
used an explicitly psychological perspective in grounding our gamification ap-
proach described below. Generally speaking, motivation refers to those psycho-
logical processes that are responsible for initiating and continuing goal directed
behaviors (Schunk, Pintrich & Meece, 2007).
Within our context, the two variants learning motivation and work motivation
are relevant. While conceptually different, both are closely related to each other.
Learning motivation is important when instructing new staff, while work motiva-
tion is crucial for their ongoing order-picking activities. The role of motivation in
these processes can be summarized by the simplifying formula “(ability + skills)
X motivation”. This expresses that motivation is an essential component for realiz-
ing a person’s potential abilities and skills in a given situation.
An important distinction in motivation research concerns intrinsic and extrinsic
motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). While extrinsic motivation relies on incentives
or expected consequences of an action, intrinsic motivation stems from fulfilling
the action itself. Here, contents and execution of an action are so attractive that no
further external motivational sources are needed. Empirically, it could be shown
that intrinsic motivation is positively associated with learning and work outcomes,
while extrinsic motivators do not necessarily result in better perfor mance. In fact,
existing intrinsic motivation can be corrupted by additionally providing external
motivators. As the manual and repetitive tasks encountered in intralogistics offer
relatively little opportunity for intrinsic motivation, we expect that gamification
can provide additional options for making order picking more attractive.
In motivation research, five principal perspectives can be differentiated. These
do not necessarily contradict each other but can become relevant in varying de-
grees in different contexts (Krapp, 1993). They can also be used to analyze possi-
ble motivational effects of different gamification elements (cf. Section 4).
1. The trait perspective investigates individual characteristics as sources of moti-
vation, which are relatively stable over time and contexts. Corresponding re-
search tries to identify general classes of motives, needs and characteristics,
such as achievement motive, need for recognition, sensation seeking, or need
2. In the behaviourist learning perspective, motivation is interpreted as the result
of previous experiences. Therefore, past positive and negative reinforcements
influence the probability of a specific behaviour in the future. Examples are
providing monetary incentives, or positive and negative feedback.
3. The cognitive perspective understands motivation as a rational deliberation of
ends and means, and emphasizes the role of internal processes such as expec-
tancies, estimation, and assessment. Accordingly, motivation is dependent
upon situation-specific goals, expectancies regarding the consequences of
one’s actions and the subjective value of these consequences.
4. Self determination theory provides a further perspective in motivation re-
search. It focuses on the three universal psychological needs for competence,
autonomy, and social relatedness. According to this perspective, people will be
motivated to work and learn if they encounter feelings of being competent in
dealing with a situation or task, it they are free to make their own choices, and
if they are part of a community with relevant others.
5. Contrary to the previous approaches, the perspective of interest emphasizes in-
dividual preferences and content aspects. It is expected that motivation results
from the specific relation of a person to the contents or subject matter of a task.
Ideally, this can lead to feelings of flow, i.e. of being fully immersed in an ac-
Given the above analysis of current approaches to staff motivation in logistics,
it is evident that the predominant approach is behaviourist. Most often we find in-
centive systems based on performance measures and predefined time standards,
which are subject to dynamic adaption to normal performance. As elaborated in
the following section, we expect that our gamification approach will open addi-
tional opportunities for increased motivational leverage in intralogistics.
4 Gamification as an innovative approach to enhance motivation
Because of the broad spectrum of gamification variations, there is no universal
definition of the term. Deterding, Dixon, Khaled & Nacke (2011) propose a work-
ing definition for gamification as “the use of game design elements in non-game
contexts” ( Deterding et al., 2011, p. 2). The simplicity of this definition bears a
potential risk of trivializing the gamification phenomenon. It is more than adding
game elements like points, badges and leader boards, it is also about the use of
game-design techniques (Werbach & Hunter, 2012).
Depending on their level of abstraction, game elements – the tools to create
gamification scenarios – can be subdivided into three non exhaustive categories.
(1) Dynamics are the highest level of abstraction and stand for the big picture of a
gamification system, yet they cannot be added directly (Werbach & Hunter, 2012).
Dynamics can be constraints, emotions, narrative, progression or relationships. (2)
Mechanics are basic gamification processes that can be challenges, chance, com-
petition, cooperation, feedback or rewards. (3) Components are specific forms of
elements, which arise from the dynamics or mechanics. These components can be
achievements, avatars, collections, levels, quests or virtual goods (Werbach &
Hunter, 2012). Levels (components), for example, give the player feedback (me-
chanics) and create a sense of progression (dynamics).
To show how gamification can address staff motivation (in logistics), exem-
plary gamification elements will be considered more precisely in regard to the
psychological context in which they function. Therefore, the above-mentioned
perspectives will be used.
1. From a trait perspective, the need for self-fulfilment, recognition and affiliation
can be seen as stable sources of motivation. By creating a strong attachment to
a meaningful and awe-inspiring story that personally involves the player, the
need for self-fulfilment can be met. This so-called epic meaning (cf. McGoni-
gal, 2011) gives the player the feeling of doing something meaningful and im-
portant. Recognition and affiliation can be illustrated by badges. They work as
virtual status symbols and function as group identification by communicating
shared experiences and activities (Antin & Churchill, 2011).
2. A quite common principle in gamification is reinforcement and punishment. In
the sense of a behaviourist learning perspective, this can be called operant con-
ditioning. Leveling up or loosing a virtual life can be examples of that. Here,
the role of immediate reinforcing feedback is an important element, which
should be considered for the effective design of motivating gamification sce-
3. From a cognitive perspective, motivation depends on means-ends analysis.
Clear goals and a high value of consequences can facilitate motivation. By pro-
viding a goal in form of a quest, the players experience challenges with clear
objectives and rewards. Within these quests, the player has to use problem-
solving activities to choose between potential solutions or alternative paths
(Hense & Mandl, 2012). Additionally, the value of consequences can be sup-
ported by badges because they show other users what a player has performed
and what the player is capable of (Antin & Churchill, 2011).
4. Being in control and master a situation fosters the players’ self-efficacy, which
relates to the feeling of competence (Hense & Mandl, 2012). Offering different
opportunities and choices can be a way to provide autonomy. Relatedness re-
fers to options for cooperation, as well as possibilities to share achievements
and to give the player the feeling of being part of a community (cf. Antin &
Churchill, 2011). These psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and
relatedness are crucial for intrinsic motivation, as a self-determination perspec-
5. Gamification scenarios should offer many choices. Regarding the story and the
resultant quests, in particular, players should have the opportunity to hit their
own preferences. This can foster intrinsic motivation and facilitate flow. From
a perspective of interest, this relation between the player and the context is cru-
cial for motivation.
To foster staff motivation in logistics, it is important to look trough the lens of
more than one of these perspectives when designing a gamification system. The
next section introduces the interdisciplinary GameLog project, which aims to im-
plement the above-mentioned concepts in logistics.
5 The GameLog project
The GameLog research project as an interdisciplinary approach combines percep-
tions and problem-solving methods from the fields of Logistics, Motivational Psy-
chology and Gaming Science. It is operated by the Institute for Material Handling
Material Flow Logistics of the Technische Universität München and the chair for
Empirical Pedagogy and Educational Psychology of the Ludwig-Maximilians-
Universität München. The project covers both theoretical basic research and a p-
plied science. Acquired insights will be implemented in a test environment for
functional testing and feasibility studies and close cooperation with the participat-
ing industrial companies will be maintained to obtain an application-oriented and
The project pursues two major objectives, one applied and one research objec-
tive. On the one hand, the feasibility of a value-adding integration of professional
gaming elements into intralogistical processes should be evaluated. On the other
hand, a gamification system for order picking (see Fig.1) should be implemented
in a laboratory environment and examined in trials with test subjects to see how it
influences a user’s motivation. The GameLog project is divided into 9 major work
packages: (1) Analysis of current approaches to staff motivation in logistics; (2)
Feasibility study of gamification elements in order picking processes; (3) Devel-
opment and evaluation of gaming concepts; (4) Development of story, mechanics
and reward structure; (5) Selection of soft- and hardware; (6) Development and
implementation of a prototype test environment; (7) Evaluation of the test envi-
ronment; (8) Validation and improvement of the test environment; (9) Documenta-
tion and Transfer of the project results;
After assessing the test environment, we expect to be able to implement the
gamification system in other order picking processes of our project partners as
Gamification has quickly become a popular trend in many contexts recently.
While examples of uses for a multitude of goals in diverse settings are abundant,
fostering staff motivation in logistics is still an innovative application. We expect
that our project will bring forth results on several levels.
For the practice of intralogistics, we expect to develop readily applicable solu-
tions for alleviating motivational problems in order picking. It is anticipated that
this can contribute to an increased productivity and reduced costs for breaking in
On a research level, we intend to gain detailed insights into the general appli-
cability of gamification approaches in labour contexts. In doing so, we consider
gamification not as a monolithic construct. Instead, our approach is to differentiate
between specific gamification elements and analyze their respective potentials and
limits within a given practical labour setting. Beyond the general question ‘will it
work?’, we aim to address the question “what gamification elements work by
which motivational mechanisms in a given context?” on a conceptual an empirical
On a general note, we share the expectation that gamification has an inherent
potential for positively impacting learning and behaviour. However, as noted by
others (Deterding, 2011), the games themselves are not the solution, but well de-
signed games. This emphasizes the need for a well planned approach grounded in
gamification and psychological theory, if one seeks to fully realize the potentials
of gamification for motivation.
Work on this paper was partly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Eco-
nomics and Technology via the German Federal Logistics Association (grant no.
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