There’s no question that employee performance, productivity and engagement are critical business issues. Yet, a Gallup survey shows that globally, only 13% of workers are engaged. Poor levels of employee engagement in workplaces around the world are shining a light on the need to explore new avenues to reconnect employees.

In an era characterized by technology-fluent millennials who grew up with Xboxes, PlayStations and Wiis, the gamification of business processes to improve participation and engagement is beginning to gain traction. In fact, more and more companies are getting in on the gaming action – 32% of the $242 million games market was spent on enterprise games in 2012.

But enterprise gamification isn’t all just fun and games. In fact, there’s sound science behind why games work in the workplace.

Because I’m Happy

Dozens of neurochemicals are involved in the transmission of data between cells, and their different attributes shape a distinct response. Dopamine, the “happy” chemical, plays an integral role in human motivation. The highly addictive, “feel good” response that dopamine elicits motivates us to pursue more. In the world of games, rewards like winning a prize, earning points and climbing through levels produce a dopamine hit that creates a good mood vibe.

The risk-to-reward ratio inherent to games also plays into the types of games that we prefer. Research shows that the highest level of dopamine release is achieved when there is a 50% level of chance within a game rather than the game being solely based on the gamers’ skills. Interestingly, the biggest spike in dopamine occurs not when we actually receive a reward, but when we anticipate receiving one. In other words, although we are satisfied when we achieve a goal, what actually motivates us is the pursuit of that goal.

The Seductive Power of Games

It’s not just about feeling good though – dopamine enhances memory encoding and recall, making it a necessary element for learning. To take advantage of the brain’s pursuit and reward mechanism, organizations must keep a few key elements in mind when gamifying talent management practices like employee learning and training, as well as onboarding, performance feedback and behavioral change initiatives.

  •  Sensation

The visual, auditory and tactile combination of sounds, voices, music and physical interaction with a game activates multiple regions of the brain. More neural activation means more mental stimulation, more engagement and ultimately, more learning. Characters with human facial expressions also draw players deeper into a game. In addition, effective games induce a mild level of positive stress, which actually shifts players into an optimal performance zone.

  •  Safety

Since they are play-based, games seem inherently safer than testing ourselves in the real world. Mistakes made can easily be rectified, and we can easily restart the game and continue unharmed. As such, games allow us to take more and larger risks, sparking more innovation and helping us generate creative alternatives.

  • Brain-friendly

Games are effective because they create an environment that underpins five factors that impact human behavior:

  • Collaboration – the need to connect with and relate to others
  • Status – the need to compete and opportunities for challenge and recognition
  • Novelty – gaining and holding our attention in a stimulant-rich world
  • Certainty – understanding game rules and rewards as well as receiving continuous and real-time feedback
  • Equity – the need for equitable benchmarks and objective feedback that avoids perceptions of unfairness or bias

According to recent neuroscience research, in order to make learning stick, the content must engage attention, drive self-generated ideas and thinking, make an emotional connection, and provide adequate processing and reinforcement time. Learning system providers are increasingly incorporating the latest research into action. In fact, some companies are taking the neuroscience findings one step further to spread learning content over time and break it into small chunks to directly address one of the biggest criticisms of traditional training methods – poor knowledge retention.

Already, games are being put to work to both enhance the productive outputs of employees, as well as to build their capability to do so. Thanks to its seductive power to tap into the most potent and compelling drivers in the human mind and generate untapped levels of engagement, gamification has real potential to transform some of HR’s established processes.

This article was written by Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.