HOW do you distinguish between work and play? Are they really that different?

Many games these days — particularly online ones —are highly complex and taxing. They require skills in strategic planning, negotiation, resource allocation, tactics, lots of practice, and the use of specialised tools (from rackets to balls to enchanted axes).

The universal presence of social media has also resulted in more businesses embracing blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and other social networks all in the name of work.

Often, hierarchy and pecking order apply in both contexts. A be-medalled badminton player or role-playing-game grandmaster is just as respected as a star engineer or target-exceeding sales manager.

Similarly, peer acceptance and team support are equally important in both cases. A manager who dominates others through fear and intimidation would not last very long. In the same light, the best players in team sports or in Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) always look out for their friends.

Finally, games and hobbies these days are evolving. People are no longer content with simply baking or cooking. Instead, they are creating recipes, posting them on Instagram/Tumblr, and teaching others how to bake that world-class soufflé.

The huge difference, however, is this. What is the frame of mind that you adopt while performing that activity? What moves you to complete that task? Are you driven by:

•   The sheer necessity to earn an income and to pay your bills?

•   The opportunity to express yourself and indulge your muse?

•   The conviviality and camaraderie of doing stuff with people you care about?

•   The chance to make a difference to a future that you believe in?

•   The insatiable need to “score” and achieve points, besting your previous record?

If the only answer that applies to you is the first one, it is probably time for you to consider looking for another job. Doing something merely because you have to is not going to bring out the best in you. On the contrary, it will sap your energy and weaken your spirit.

If your answer is any or all of the other four, you are actually not “working” in the traditional sense but playing. Earning a salary is like icing on the cake.

The differences between work and play are summarised by the table (below left) from the Gamification Wiki. Go through it and see if you agree.

The challenge for all of us is this: how do we make our work more like play? Or less like work?

Consider embracing the principles of gamification at the workplace. This can be summarised as follows:



Adopt accelerated feedback cycles so that employees know when they have done well and when they have slipped up. The faster and more frequently you can do so, the better.



 Establish clear objectives and “rules of the game” with boundaries that are clear and unambiguous.



Encourage socialisation and cross-team efforts. Make it clear what project teams are working on.



 Develop a compelling story that is woven into aspects of the “game”. This narrative should resonate with players/colleagues and engage them in proactive participation.



Provide clear and achievable rewards for intermediate milestones. This shouldn’t wait till the completion of a 12-month project, but could be established at various stages of progress.


Smaller goals

Break down tasks into challenging but achievable quantums. In gamification, reaping intermediate wins helps one to sustain energy levels throughout the endeavour.



Be transparent about the different “games” that are being played. If possible, broadcast the progress of various teams through multiple corporate channels.


Acceptance of failure

Most importantly, build a culture that celebrates failure. Consider how a resounding crash during a Formula One race attracts far more attention than a run-of-the-mill victory. Having said that, it is good to institute a system that encourages people to learn fast from their mistakes and move on.


Article by Walter Lim, a senior marketer, publicist and social influencer with almost 19 years of experience. He provides free business and management advice at For more information, e-mail him at






repetitive, dull

repetitive, fun


once a year



contradictory, vague


Path to Mastery




unclear, untransparent

clear, transparent


too much and not enough

right amount at the right time


forbidden, punished, don't talk about it

expected, encouraged, spectacular, brag about it

Status of Users


transparent, timely











mid to low



only if you are lucky




on purpose