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Designing Gamification for Sustainable Employee Behavior: Insights on Employee Motivations, Design Features and Gamification Elements


Abstract and Figures

Encouraging sustainable employee behavior is critical for companies in the face of increasing societal pressure towards sustainability. While gamification has been shown to influence employee behavior effectively, current attempts to design gamification for sustainability in the workplace largely neglect the importance of understanding personal factors and contextual characteristics. This work explores employees' motivations for sustainable behavior and expectations for design features through in-depth interviews with 27 employees from different SMEs. Our results show that many employees tend to be egoistically motivated, suggesting the design of appropriate narratives and individualistic-oriented design features. Employees expected utilitarian, hedonistic, and social design features that primarily serve to support them in achieving personal sustainability goals while highlighting that gamification at work should also integrate seamlessly with existing work routines. We contribute to gamification design research by discussing the particularities of the workplace sustainability context and shedding new light on involving users in gamification design.
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Designing Gamification for Sustainable Employee Behavior: Insights on
Employee Motivations, Design Features and Gamification Elements
Jeanine Krath
University of Koblenz-Landau
Benedikt Morschheuser
Friedrich-Alexander University
Harald F.O. von Korflesch
University of Koblenz-Landau
Encouraging sustainable employee behavior is
critical for companies in the face of increasing societal
pressure towards sustainability. While gamification has
been shown to influence employee behavior effectively,
current attempts to design gamification for
sustainability in the workplace largely neglect the
importance of understanding personal factors and
contextual characteristics. This work explores
employees' motivations for sustainable behavior and
expectations for design features through in-depth
interviews with 27 employees from different SMEs. Our
results show that many employees tend to be egoistically
motivated, suggesting the design of appropriate
narratives and individualistic-oriented design features.
Employees expected utilitarian, hedonistic, and social
design features that primarily serve to support them in
achieving personal sustainability goals while
highlighting that gamification at work should also
integrate seamlessly with existing work routines. We
contribute to gamification design research by
discussing the particularities of the workplace
sustainability context and shedding new light on
involving users in gamification design.
1. Introduction
In light of the increasing political and societal
pressure towards sustainable development, which
becomes evident in developments such as the United
Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [1],
companies are challenged to shift from a mere focus on
the economic dimension and to include ecological and
societal engagement in their performance objectives [2].
However, alongside strategic decisions, individual
employee behavior is decisive for companies'
sustainability performance [3, 4]. Since employees are
eventually responsible for implementing the strategic
decisions, it is critical that they know and understand the
company's sustainability goals [5] and change their
current behavior to pursue these goals [6]. Recent
studies, for example, point to the significant impact of
employee behavior on energy expenditure [7], with
potential savings of up to 20-40% of a corporate
building's energy consumption [8, 9]. This demonstrates
the relevance of employee engagement in improving a
company's sustainability performance [10]. In
particular, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs),
which make up the vast majority of companies in the EU
[11] and the U.S. [12] and are considered major
contributors to global pollution [13], rely on employee
engagement to improve their sustainability performance
in the absence of financial resources for sustainability
measures [14]. Consequently, there is a great demand
for effective incentive mechanisms that involve
employees in sustainability efforts.
Gamification represents one of the most promising
developments in terms of influencing motivation and
behavior toward sustainability [15]. It is broadly
considered as the use of game elements in non-game
contexts [16] with the aim to induce similar experiences
as in games (e.g., fun, satisfaction, motivation) and to
affect behavior [17]. Gamification has been shown to
favorably change employee behavior in various
contexts, such as knowledge sharing [18] and
collaborative innovation [19], to support corporate
training programs [20], or to improve performance in
warehouse management [21]. Existing studies show that
gamification in an organizational context can motivate
employees to engage in sustainable behavior [22, 23].
However, the design features critical to the
acceptance and continued use of such systems from the
employees' perspective remain poorly understood.
Current attempts to incorporate employees and their
preferences into the design of gamification for
sustainability have focused on quantitative evaluations
of player types [24], motivational types [25], or
dispositional parameters [26]. Yet, a profound
understanding of employees' needs, motivations, and
expectations, as well as the contextual characteristics of
gamification in the workplace, is still lacking [21].
Proceedings of the 55th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences | 2022
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(CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
However, this has been highlighted as critical to the
success of gamification [27, 28].
The present study aims to fill this gap. In the course
of a design science research (DSR) approach [29] to
develop a gamified app for sustainable, especially pro-
environmental behavior in different SMEs, we aim to
include the perspective of our target group and seek to
understand a) their motivations for sustainable behavior
as well as b) their expectations for design features (e.g.,
utilitarian aspects and hedonic gamification elements)
of such an app.
Consequently, we opt for semi-structured
exploratory interviews as a basis for the future design in
the DSR cycle [30] to identify employee expectations
and motivations as well as contextual factors through in-
depth discussion with employees of different SMEs
striving to become more sustainable. In the course of the
analysis, the value-belief-norm theory [31] serves as a
guiding framework for classifying employees’
motivations for sustainable behavior. The theory
distinguishes between three categories of value
orientation and according attitudes that shape intention
to behave sustainably: egoistic value orientation and
attitudes, which predispose people to protect the
environment only when it affects them or those they care
about, humanistic value orientation and attitudes, which
lead people to care about the environment based on the
costs or benefits to a human group or humanity as a
whole, and biospheric value orientation and attitudes,
that describe altruism directed toward the ecosystem
beyond benefits to humans. This categorization
supports our qualitative content analysis by providing a
theoretically guided approach to classify different
motivations for sustainable behavior.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows.
Section 2 describes the methodology, including
participants, data collection, and data analysis, and
Section 3 reports the results. Next, Section 4 provides a
discussion of the findings. Finally, Section 5 highlights
the limitations of our study and suggests avenues for
further research.
2. Materials and methods
2.1. Participants
We interviewed 27 employees working in four
different SMEs in Germany in February-March 2021.
The companies operated in various industries and were
selected to capture a wide range of different SME
business activities. One focuses on industrial glass
production, the second offers specialized software as a
service, the third is in the web and media design
industry, and the fourth deals with industrial technology
development. We contacted the companies, and internal
representatives recruited the interviewees. We asked the
representatives to select participants to be as reflective
of the company as possible. As a result, they ranged
from service desk staff to software developers and
product designers to team leaders and general managers,
capturing the diversity of different employees for our
study. Consequently, respondents formed a
heterogeneous group in terms of gender, job description,
position, and age (see Table 1). To maintain
confidentiality and prevent individual identification, we
report age as a range.
Table 1. Participants and their characteristics.
Job description
Process management
Product management
Software development
Software development
Quality management
Media design
Software development
Media design
Executive board
Media design
Internal organization
Software development
Human resources
Customer service
Executive board
Customer service
Staff position executive
Customer service
< 20
Research & development
Supply chain
2.2 Data collection
For data collection, we used semi-structured
interviews as this method is considered suitable for
gathering in-depth information about individuals'
personal and social affairs while at the same time
allowing the researcher to focus on identified research
questions [32]. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and
associated restrictions on in-person communication, we
conducted the interviews remotely via Microsoft
Teams. Prior to the data collection, we informed each
participant about the details of the research procedure
and obtained their written informed consent. At the
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beginning of each interview, which was conducted by a
single researcher, the interviewer introduced the study
context (workplace sustainability) and provided a brief
explanation of gamification in relation to Deterding et
al.'s definition, i.e., the “use of game elements in non-
game contexts” [16]. Correspondingly, the interview
followed a loose guideline, starting with the
interviewee's daily work routines (What does a typical
working day look like for you?), going over the topic of
sustainability and motivations for sustainable behavior
(Would you say it is important or unimportant that
people behave sustainably in the workplace? For what
reasons or motives would you act sustainably or change
your behavior?), followed by an open discussion on the
expectations for design features and game elements of a
gamified app for sustainability in the workplace (How
would a gamified app for sustainability need to be
designed for you to use it? Which criteria would be
particularly important to you? Which game elements
would you find motivating?). The pertinent interview
guide was pretested with two participants to identify and
eradicate any misleading questions or wording.
Interviews were recorded using screen recording
software and lasted between 34 and 78 minutes. Except
for one interview, which was conducted in English and
also transcribed in English, all interviews were
conducted and transcribed in German.
2.3. Data analysis
Following the approach of Mayring [33], we
conducted a qualitative content analysis, as qualitative
content analysis is not only the most popular text
analytic method but also a suitable approach to extract
findings relevant to the predefined research questions
[34]. Accordingly, we opted for deductive coding
concerning employees' motivations for sustainable
behavior guided by Stern and Dietz's value-belief-norm
theory [31] and inductive coding for design features for
a gamified app (data-driven approach [33]). All
transcripts were uploaded to the MAXQDA data
analysis tool. The inductive coding process involved (1)
determining the level of selection and abstraction of
categories to be coded, (2) linking text passages with the
defined level of abstraction either to existing categories
or forming a new category, (3) revisiting categories after
30% of the material, and (4) coding the remaining
material without changing existing categories and
adding new categories as needed [33]. For reliability
testing, intracoder agreement checking as a measure of
stability [33] was performed for 10% of the material,
with an intracoder agreement rate of 94.44%.
After the coding process, the categories were
clustered into groups to provide overarching insights
towards understanding employees’ expectations and
desires. The classification was inspired by the general
aspects of user experience in hedonic information
systems [35] to explore the role of these different
aspects in the specific context of a gamified app for
sustainable employee behavior in a structured way. In
the following, excerpts from the interviews presented in
the results are translated from German into English.
3. Results
3.1. Motivations for sustainable behavior
First, we investigated employee motivations for
sustainable behavior to design appropriate narratives
and pick up individuals with appropriate design features
in the gamified app. In our interviews, we identified a
large group of employees who expressed their concerns
about the future of their own children and grandchildren
in terms of resources such as fossil fuels, water, and
food (P6, P8, P17, P19, P22, P27): "Well, I actually
think that this change has taken place in me because of
my children, that you start to think about what kind of
world do I want to leave to my children?" (P22). When
investigating their statements, we recognized egoistic
aspects as a common reason for sustainable behavior. In
addition, several employees indicated that they care
about the environment based solely on social norms,
citing pressure from acquaintances (P12, P13) and the
increasing social relevance of sustainable behavior:
“You get to hear it everywhere. I mean, how you should
behave and what is sustainable for the environment and
environmentally friendly. And of course, you try to
behave accordingly. Simply because it feels righter
(P16). Moreover, participants in management positions
particularly emphasized that sustainable employee
behavior maintains the companys competitiveness and
should therefore be strived for (P19, P25).
The second, smaller group of workers emphasized
the prospects for future human civilization and criticized
the short-term view of current policies (P7), which is
why we classified them as humanistically motivated. In
particular, they pointed to the importance of today's
sustainable behavior for future generations of all
humanity (P4, P14), beyond their own children (P20).
Finally, the third group of employees indicated
biospheric motivations as reasons for sustainable
behavior. They explained their sustainable behavior by
the observation that unsustainable behavior has led to
“islands of trash” (P21) in the oceans, the death of
animals from human waste on land and in water (P3), or
the pollution of rivers (P15). Some of them also equated
the state of the ecosystem with the health of the planet
itself, which should be protected at all costs:
“Sustainability is, of course, a very, very crucial issue,
because I think we have done enough damage to our
planet for a long time without thinking about it. And we
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must and should start counteracting this now at the very
latest” (P26).
3.2. Design features and gamification elements
When asking for expected design features of a
gamified app for sustainability, interviewees
emphasized various factors that, according to the
interviews, are of great importance for the acceptance
and continued use of such an app at work. In particular,
we identified that employees referred to utilitarian,
hedonic, and social design features as well as the issue
of data protection and consent.
3.2.1 Utilitarian design features and elements.
According to [35], we clustered design features as
utilitarian design features if they enhanced the value of
the app towards intended outcomes and supported ease
of use, which refers to an efficient and obstacle-free user
experience, as well as perceived usefulness, i.e., that the
app enhances sustainable behavior. Our analysis
revealed seven clusters of utilitarian design features that
were cited as important by the interviewees. These are
easy access, intuitive user interface, onboarding,
intelligent support, goal setting, performance tracking,
and appropriate incentives (see Table 2):
Easy access. In terms of easy access, employees
mentioned that a gamified app for sustainability should
be accessible through their smartphone for them to use,
especially since it should not distract from main work
tasks and would be primarily used during breaks or at
the end of the workday. In addition, some employees
desired a complementary browser app that should not
replace a smartphone app but increase its informational
value. For example, it should provide advanced statistics
on employees' sustainable behaviors, mentioned in
particular by participants that lead the research project
within the company (P2, P17), and overall sustainability
performance. Particularly noteworthy is the suggestion
of two employees who proposed facilitating the use of
the gamified app by linking it to internal communication
systems, such as MS Teams (P26).
Intuitive user interface. In addition, the
employees emphasized the importance of an intuitive
user interface that simplifies the use of the gamified app.
A vital aspect of the user interface should be a pragmatic
structure that “(…) must not be cumbersome to use,
because otherwise it quickly degenerates into work
again” (P16) and has an “intuitive structure, (that) can
be learned quickly” (P21), i.e., the gamified app should
not be overburdened with too many elements, tabs, and
navigations. Instead, since the gamified app aims at
sustainability in the work environment, it was important
for employees to be able to use the app with as little time
as possible and to have quick access to the main actions
in the app. For example, they mentioned the
introduction of checklists that allow quick input of
sustainability actions performed during the day (P15,
P16, P22). Such a design would enable employees not
to have to actively search for how to enter their
sustainability actions into the app but to remain in a
time-efficient, reactive position where they can simply
check off when they have completed an action (P19).
Onboarding. Furthermore, respondents cited the
importance of onboarding in the form of a tutorial (P15),
a go-through (P26), or a visual introduction (P21) as a
relevant aspect for increasing usability. The onboarding
should explain the most important functionalities of the
gamified app to ease the entry, especially since the topic
of sustainable behavior is not necessarily self-
explanatory: The app must tell you ‘Here, here I am, I
can do that. Here you can do this, here you can do
that.’” (P14). One employee also mentioned that it
would help usability if this introduction were accessible
in the gamified app to view again after some inactivity
Goal setting. Concerning the support of sustainable
behavior, many employees mentioned that the gamified
app should allow them to set their own goals.
Employees would like to choose which dimension of
sustainable behavior, e.g., saving energy, reducing
waste, or biking to work, they would like to work on
(P2, P21), and they want to be able to change their focus
from one week to another (P22). In addition,
interviewees mentioned the assistive function of daily
goals that should be provided (P4, P18, P20) to give
them an idea of what they could work on that day. One
employee emphasized that the goals set should be clear,
measurable, and achievable, i.e., SMART, to be
motivating (P20).
Intelligent support. Beyond goal-setting
functionalities, employees expect the gamified app to
provide intelligent support in pursuing their goals. Some
respondents described that the gamified app should
provide a clear path to the goal, i.e., tell them what they
need to do to achieve their goals, e.g., by offering an
overview of possible actions for sustainability (P11,
P12). Several interviewees also mentioned personalized
recommendations adapted to their current sustainable
behavior and goals as an essential supporting element.
For example, the gamified app should display
sustainability actions based on active challenges (P9)
and suggest further goals based on current objectives
(P10). In addition, employees liked the app to consider
situational factors for personalized suggestions, such as
whether it is quitting time and one should turn off the
computer (P20) or whether the employee is in a specific
location (P12, P25). Similarly, employees emphasized
the integration of reminders that actively encourage
them to engage in sustainable behaviors, for example, in
the form of push notifications (P1, P6, P19, P20).
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Especially in the work context, the focus is not
inherently on sustainable behavior, so reminders should
be used to remind people to take quick and small actions
toward sustainability, such as turning off the lights (P22,
P25). Furthermore, some respondents advocated for
automatic tracking of sustainability actions. Specific
suggestions include connected sensors, such as smart
light switches that measure whether the office light is on
(P24), and Bluetooth gadgets on trash cans that track
whether the employee has disposed of paper (P6).
Performance tracking. Several interviewees
expressed that a gamified app for sustainability in the
workplace should help visualize and understand
personal sustainability performance and progress, e.g.,
by displaying various sustainability-related metrics (P3,
P4, P10, P13, P26). Relatedly, employees also desired
immediate feedback on how specific actions improved
their performance (P3, P8), e.g., having the gamified
app show a message that they saved 160 watt-hours of
energy by turning off the lights, as well as an overview
of their past activities and how they related to
performance metrics (P4, P6, P8). Also, participants
pointed out that sustainability metrics, such as kilowatt-
hours of energy, need to be made understandable
through tangible examples: “So many kilometers not
driven or something, one load of the washing machine
not washed, for energy saved (...) Because only numbers
are difficult to capture” (P6). Moreover, some
employees referred to the display of trend indicators that
illustrate the direction of future performance (P4, P25).
Appropriate incentives. Finally, some employees
requested tangible incentives for achievements in the
gamified app, or redeemable points, as a prerequisite for
being motivated to engage in sustainable behaviors
through the app. Several employees seeking such
rewards emphasized the importance of appropriateness
in the context of sustainability, suggesting, for example,
coupons for sustainable stores (P10), sustainable
cooking recipes (P3), team parties (P12), or a parking
lot for the “sustainable employee of the week (P27). In
addition, the employer could reward individual and
team achievements with a donation to social and pro-
environmental projects in their name (P1, P5).
3.2.2 Hedonic design features and elements. Hedonic
design features serve to promote positive user
experiences, such as enjoyment when using the app, and
to frame desired behaviors as playful activities to
increase fun [35]. In our interviews, we identified six
thematic clusters of hedonic design features desired by
the employees: appealing visual design, continuous
excitement, emotional reinforcement, ludic goals,
playful learning, and exploration (see Table 3):
Appealing visual design. In terms of the aesthetic
design of the user interface, employees emphasized the
use of sustainability-related signal colors and images in
the gamified app. Colors such as green, blue, or yellow
were associated with sustainability and considered
appropriate for a coherent design concept (P15, P20,
P23). In addition, some employees indicated that they
would like to receive juicy and visually appealing
feedback when using the app: "I would be delighted if,
for example, I confirm I just flushed the toilet for a
third and someone is jumping across the screen, yes,
literally, with a toilet brush, or something like that, and
he's making funny faces” (P3). Moreover, some
participants expressed the importance of aligning the
appearance of the gamified app with the corporate
identity, e.g., by using the company logo (P2, P26) or
General aspect
Expected design features
Participants that cited the feature
Ease of use
Easy access
Smartphone app
P2, P3, P4, P6, P7, P8, P9, P10, P11, P12, P13, P14,
P15, P16, P17, P18, P20, P21, P22, P24, P26, P27
Browser app
P2, P10, P16, P17, P20, P22, P24, P26
Integration with existing systems
P24, P26
Intuitive user interface
Pragmatic structure
P2, P4, P5, P11, P14, P15, P16, P20, P21, P22, P25,
P26, P27
Quick access to main actions
P15, P16, P19, P22, P24, P25
Explanatory introduction
P7, P14, P15, P21, P22, P26
Access during use
Goal setting
Customizable goals
P2, P4, P8, P18, P21, P22, P23
Daily goals
P4, P18, P20
Clear and achievable goals
Intelligent support
Path to the goal
P7, P8, P11, P12, P20
Personalized recommendations
P5, P9, P10, P12, P20, P23, P25, P26
P1, P12, P18, P19, P20, P22, P25, P26
Automatic tracking
P6, P24
Performance tracking
Transparent impact metrics
P1, P2, P3, P4, P6, P7, P8, P10, P12, P13, P14, P17,
P20, P22, P25, P26
Explanation of abstract units
P4, P6, P17, P20, P24
Trend indicators
P4, P25
Appropriate incentives
Tangible rewards
P3, P9, P10, P12, P19, P21, P27
P1, P5
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colors (P8), suggesting that customization is vital to
foster employee relatedness.
Continuous excitement. To maintain enjoyment,
respondents referred to the need to keep the gamified
app exciting by continuously introducing new content,
suggesting that employees fear a bit of a boredom effect
after a certain period. New content could include new
sustainability topics (P25) or promotional periods for
specific themes (P1, P14, P20). The gamified app could
also adapt the content to the season, e.g., suggest regular
airing in summer and heating-related sustainability
actions in winter (P25). Another possible design feature
to promote long-term engagement mentioned by
employees is dynamically adjusting the difficulty level
depending on the players’ experience, e.g., matching the
points required for success to the user's experience (P4)
and proposing new actions upon success with the pre-
existing ones (P25).
Emotional reinforcement. As a third aspect
related to enjoyment, the participants emphasized the
inspiring effect of motivational messages to strengthen
self-efficacy and further promote motivation. The
gamified app should inform about the current successes
and motivate to persist: “again and again a yeah, you
did super cool! Come on, keep going. If you do this next
challenge now, then you'll be even more sustainable!’
and so on. (P9).
Ludic goals. In relation to the utilitarian features of
goal setting, participants noted that the gamified app
would be a great way to use multiple gamification
elements that playfully frame the goals as part of a
game, e.g., by introducing virtual badges for goal
achievement, such as a badge for separating trash ten
times (P9). Points and level systems should also be
considered as gamification elements that allow the
playful setting of personal goals related to overall
sustainability performance (P4) and illustrate personal
development (P20, P21).
Playful learning. Moreover, employees mentioned
quiz games (P3, P6, P7) as gamification elements to
learn about sustainability entertainingly and to compare
their knowledge with others. In this context, a tip of the
day (P13) or informative hints during the day (P26)
could serve as a playful way to expand knowledge in
small appetizers (P1) about how to improve one's own
sustainability performance and why individual behavior
is important (P4, P10) without employees having to
actively and time-consumingly study these topics.
Exploration. As a final group of hedonic design
features that promote positive experiences while using
the gamified app, participants pointed to the possibility
of exploration. Specific suggestions included
introducing unlockable content (P4), such as avatar add-
ons (P9, P21), and hiding Easter eggs that can be
discovered when a specific combination of sustainable
achievements is reached (P2, P6).
3.2.3. Social design features and elements. Finally,
social design features refer to features that enable social
influence, i.e., mutual influence among employees in
using the app and performing sustainable behaviors, and
that allow for social feedback and recognition [35]. In
this context, employees mentioned design features in
five thematic clusters: performance comparisons,
reciprocal support, fairness, social praise, and
customizable presentation (see Table 4):
Performance comparisons. First, respondents
indicated that they would like the gamified app to
display not only their own sustainability metrics but also
those of their colleagues to enable peer comparison. In
particular, upward comparisons could foster personal
motivation to beat colleagues and behave more
sustainably (P10, P13, P14). Employees would also like
to see leaderboards and internal rankings that encourage
them to achieve first place (P10) or at least a place in the
top ten (P20). In this context, some participants
emphasized rankings with different categories or
periods, so that there is not just a one-time top
performer, but each participant has the chance to
become “weekly leader” (P4) or "top challenger in a
particular category, so to say, (...) ‘veggie of the month
Table 3. Hedonic design features and elements.
General aspect
Expected design features
Participants that cited the feature
Appealing visual design
Suitable colors
P9, P14, P15, P20, P23
Juicy feedback
P3, P8, P14
Brand customization
P2, P8, P26
Continuous excitement
Variable content
P1, P14, P20, P25, P26
Difficulty adaption
P4, P25
Emotional reinforcement
Motivational messages
P1, P8, P9, P18
Ludic goals
Virtual achievements
P3, P4, P7, P9, P13, P15, P20, P25, P26
Points and level systems
P3, P4, P9, P12, P14, P19, P20, P21, P26
Playful learning
P3, P6, P7
Informational hints and nudges
P1, P2, P4, P10, P13, P17, P18, P22, P25, P26
Unlockable content
P4, P9, P21
Easter eggs
P2, P6
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is Klaus from the IT department’” (P26), indicating their
need for equal chances of success to stay motivated. In
addition, employees from SMEs with multiple sites (P1,
P19) added rankings between companies as an
encouraging feature. Moreover, competitive elements
such as challenges, e.g., to go vegetarian for a week
(P18), were highlighted as another gamification element
to encourage sustainable behavior. One employee added
the possibility to annoy colleagues in a playful way to
promote the idea of competition: “So hindering others
in achieving their goals (...) you could have something
like a kind of wild card and the other person then has to
scratch the whole screen free before moving on to the
next level” (P14).
Reciprocal support. In addition to competitions,
employees also mentioned collaborative gamification
elements and design features to help them stay
motivated. Several participants felt that organizing into
teams was particularly important for achieving
sustainability goals together (P16, P20), allowing for
competition between teams while promoting cohesion
within teams (P1, P2, P5, P6, P7). In addition,
employees cited the potential to use the gamified app as
a tool for collaboration and sharing, for example, by
introducing idea features that facilitate suggesting
sustainability actions that might be of interest to others.
Voting on proposed ideas and goals was mentioned as
an additional gamification element to make idea sharing
among colleagues more fun (P3, P8). Messaging
features were highlighted to ease exchange among team
members (P4, P23).
Fairness. Apart from these positive aspects of
introducing competitive and collaborative design
features, several employees were concerned that other
colleagues might cheat in the gamified app (P1, P8, P12,
P15, P27) and stressed the introduction of some kind of
fraud detection or social control mechanism to
discourage cheating (P8). This indicates that fairness is
an important aspect, especially in the workplace, for
employees to adopt competitive gamification elements
as motivational inducements for sustainable behavior.
Social praise. In terms of social recognition for
successful sustainable behavior, some participants
mentioned being able to like the actions of others (P8,
P12) and openly praising colleagues for their
contribution to shared goals (P26) as ideas for valuing
individual performance. In addition, sharing
accomplishments on social media could publicize
employees' sustainability successes outside the
company (P1, P26).
Customizable presentation. Finally, two
employees mentioned the ability to present oneself in
profiles and avatars, especially with photos (P8) and an
area to showcase one's accomplishments (P20), as
motivating social design features.
3.2.4. Data protection and consent
Beyond design features that relate to the general
aspects of user experience in hedonic information
systems [35], we identified another noteworthy aspect
that was considered an important design feature of a
gamified app in a work context, namely the issue of data
protection and consent. Specifically, concerned
employees requested consent forms for data processing
within the app (P17, P22), admin roles for limited access
to administrative overviews (P26), and protection from
external access so that personal employee data is only
displayed within the organization (P17). Although
privacy may often be an uncomfortable and time-
consuming topic for gamification designers, our results
highlight its importance for gamified apps, especially in
work-related contexts where employees entrust
sensitive personal data to the company and thus to the
app designer.
4. Discussion of the research findings
This study revealed novel insights into the design
of effective gamified apps for engaging sustainability
behavior at work. Besides this core contribution, the
findings shed new light on the overall discussion of user
involvement in the gamification design process [28, 36,
Table 4. Social design features and elements.
General aspect
Expected design features
Participants that cited the feature
Social influence
Performance comparisons
Peer statistics
P6, P7, P10, P13, P14, P16, P25
Leaderboards and rankings
P1, P3, P4, P5, P6, P10, P12, P19, P20
P1, P2, P5, P12, P14, P18, P21, P26
Reciprocal support
Team organization
P1, P2, P5, P6, P7, P8, P15, P16, P18, P20
Ideation features
P4, P5, P6, P17, P21, P24, P27
Idea voting
P3, P8
Messaging features
P4, P23
Fraud detection
P1, P8, P12, P15, P27
Social praise
Social media sharing
P1, P26
Likes and comments
P8, P12, P26
Customizable presentation
Profiles and avatars
P8, P20
Page 1600
In terms of reasons for sustainable behavior, we
found that employees motivations can be divided into
three categories, similar to the distinction made by
value-belief-norm theory [31]. First (I), the largest
group of the interviewed employees noted egoistic
reasons, such as motivation to contribute to a better
future for their children and grandchildren. In addition,
another group of interviewees (II) mainly emphasized
social pressure as a core motivation for sustainable
behavior, and a third (III) category of interviewees have
already thoroughly engaged with the impact of today’s
behavior on future human generations (humanistic
motivations) and ecosystem health (biospheric
To address these different target groups,
gamification designers could draw on various design
features highlighted in the interviews (Table 2, 3, 4).
Employees mainly referred to utilitarian design features
that support easy access, intuitive use, and personal
development, e.g., goal setting, intelligent support, and
performance tracking. Hedonic design features were
primarily cited for reinforcing this individualistic
progression by ludifying goals, enabling playful
learning, and supporting continuous excitement. In
contrast, social design features were expected mainly to
enable social comparisons and team organization for
inter-team competition. When encouraging employees
to behave more sustainably, we recommend designers
use engaging narratives and missions, such as Save the
future of your children to address individualistic
concerns of more egoistically motivated employees (I).
Further, they should consider illustrating the impact of
personal contribution in performance metrics and
reinforce self-efficacy through immediate and appealing
feedback as these features are known to engage
sustainable behavior on an individual level [38]. Group
II might be engaged with more social design features
that exert social influence (Table 2). Group III is
unlikely to need social pressure or persuasive narratives
because they have already engaged with how their
behavior contributes to sustainability. Instead,
gamification designers should prioritize informational
design features that support these employees in how to
act (even more) sustainably by offering personalized
recommendations, informational cues, and idea
exchange features. These findings contribute to the
existing literature in various dimensions:
First, we contribute to the ongoing discourse on the
primary motivations for sustainable behavior by
observing that several employees cite selfish
motivations, i.e., the future of their own children and
social pressures, and are thus not inherently motivated
to do what they can to improve sustainability in the
workplace. This result is exciting in light of previous
studies in which humanistic and biospheric motivations
were more prominent than egoistic ones [39, 40]. We
explain our findings by noting that they have examined
target groups that are likely already aware of the
relevance of sustainable behaviors and the impact of
their own actions (e.g., climate change mitigation [39]
or students [40]). Our study can serve as an anchoring
point for further studies and highlights the need to
investigate the motivations of the target group, as these
motivations influence which design features (e.g.,
persuasive elements that convey relevance versus
informative elements that support behavior
maintenance) should be prioritized in specific contexts.
Second, the results of this study yielded various
insights that may be relevant to the future design of
gamified apps for workplace sustainability. For
example, we found that designers should explore how
gamification can be seamlessly and effectively
integrated into daily work processes, with as little
interference as possible from main work tasks.
Embedding gamification and sustainability goals into
existing solutions and processes could therefore be
beneficial compared to more monolithic gamification
approaches. In addition, we found that designers should
prioritize design features, both utilitarian (e.g.,
performance metrics, recommendations, and
reminders), hedonic (e.g., virtual achievements, point,
and level systems, and informational hints), and social
(e.g., intra-, and inter-team challenges and
leaderboards), that support individual goal setting and
tracking. Previous research has shown that goal setting
is one of the most effective mechanisms for sustainable
behavior change [41]. Besides leaderboards, which can
successfully support goal setting in a work context [42],
our findings suggest that other elements such as
achievements, reminders, levels, or challenges could
also be helpful for goal setting, which provides a starting
point to explore the implications of these elements for
gamification design for workplace sustainability.
Third, although user involvement in the
gamification design process is widely regarded as a
critical design principle for successful gamification
[36], our study revealed potential limitations of this
approach. We found that employee expectations and
previous research findings differ, suggesting that
consideration of user feedback should be done with
caution and related to quantitative research findings. For
example, it is surprising that employees mentioned
various design features and gamification elements
primarily associated with individual effort, self-
development, and competition, despite previous
research indicating that sustainable behavior requires
collective engagement rather than individualism [43].
Similarly, concerning rewards, studies in the work
context have shown that extrinsic rewards usually have
only short-term effects [44]. However, respondents in
Page 1601
our research cited appropriate rewards as an essential
design feature. One possible explanation for this could
be that the design features expected by users in advance
differ from what they find motivating when using
gamified apps. In addition, a variety of possible game
elements known from research, such as storytelling,
virtual assistants, or simulations [45], which might be
particularly suitable to appeal to those employees who
have yet to become aware of the impact of their own
actions, were not mentioned at all by participants,
possibly due to limited knowledge. These observations
suggest that although user involvement in the design
process is crucial [36], user perceptions should be
interpreted with caution when designing gamification
and supported by findings from previous studies and
real-world experiments.
5. Limitations and further research
Our study has several limitations that open further
avenues for further research in the context of
gamification for sustainable employee behavior.
First, we exploratively investigated employee
motivations for sustainable behavior and expectations
for the design features of a gamified app in the
workplace. While the in-depth interviews allowed us to
explore employee perspectives in-depth and identify
clusters of important design features in the context of
workplace sustainability, future empirical studies
should assess the generalizability of our findings using
quantitative research designs. In particular, quantitative
studies should further investigate the distribution of
different motivations for sustainable behavior, as well
as the relative importance of the design features and
gamification elements we identified, both from an
employee perspective and in terms of their influence on
behavioral outcomes.
Second, we identified inconsistencies between
employee perceptions and theoretical propositions
about gamification design. However, our study was not
able to draw a conclusion about which design
hypothesis is more effective. Further research that draws
on this observation and opt for comparative empirical
research could give more evidence and add to the
ongoing discourse [37] of benefits and limitations of
user involvement in design processes.
Finally, our sample was limited to mainly male
employees from four different SMEs in Germany and
thus focused on a specific work environment, mainly in
the industrial and IT services sector, with a particular
cultural background. Further research encompassing
employees from larger companies, other industries, and
with different geographic and cultural backgrounds
might be conducted to investigate how these contexts
influence the successful design of gamification for
sustainable employee behavior.
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... In addition, the quantitative study on player types revealed critical insights for personalizing gamification design (RQ 5) [69]. Based on these findings, an initial prototype of the gamified application was designed and evaluated through in-depth interviews with employees, which revealed an interesting dominance of egoistic environmental values and, accordingly, a preference for gamification elements related to self-development and learning (RQ 4) [70]. Forthcoming, the second cycle aims to develop an MVP of the gamified application based on previous results and a review of employees' sustainability actions (RQ 6), and to identify any barriers that employees experience in a short-term qualitative evaluation (RQ 7). ...
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