The concept behind “gamification,” the process of turning a typically mundane activity into an engaging game, is not new. As far back as the 1970s, management consultants have promoted “fun at work” techniques to improve employee morale, teamwork, and productivity. What is relatively new, however, is using technology to track and monitor employee behavior both on the job and away from work.

For work-related activities, web-based services such as Bunchball, Badgeville, and IActionable enable employers to “gamify” job functions. This provides employees with a clear picture of performance goals, feedback on their progress, and motivation to improve their performance. And unlike a tangible leaderboard, these services integrate with existing IT systems to update automatically in real-time. While this capability saves managers the time and effort of rearranging names on a leaderboard, it may not be as cost-effective. Pricing for some gamification services start at $1,000 per month, a cost which may prove difficult to recoup in many industries.

Gamification has attracted more recent attention in the realm of employer-sponsored wellness programs. A recent survey found that gamification improved wellness program participation by 63%, outperforming the use of incentives. As more and more employers implement the outcomes-based wellness incentive programs authorized by the Affordable Care Act, health and technology companies have been racing to deploy new products and services to track health behavior. Rather than relying on employees to self-report activity, hardware such as digital pedometers, Fitbit bands, and smart watches can automatically record and upload data, making the process easier and more reliable.

In addition, software makers are looking to use the data gathered by these devices for game-like contests, like UnitedHealth Group’s OptumizeMe, as well as more for broader medical purposes. For example, Apple Inc.’s HealthKit API will interact with both activity trackers and electronic medical record systems, including Verona, Wisconsin-based Epic Systems Corp.’s MyChart.

To learn more about how gamification is used by top HR professionals for recruiting, training, and wellness, read this Forbes article. [raw]