The Pros and Cons of Implementing Gamification in the Workplace

2015-06-24-1435182336-3616399-davenevogt.jpgAuthor Dave Nevogt is a co-founder of Hubstaff, a time tracking software for remote teams. Hubstaff allows managers to see time spent on projects, screenshots, activity levels, in-depth reports and timesheets.

Carmen Sandiego, Math Blaster, Mavis Beacon, Oregon Trail. Younger, computer-savvy generations probably spent at least some of their time voraciously glued to their keyboards trying to win these games, sometimes realizing that they were also supposed to be learning, sometimes not. These games were fun, so why did it matter?

Those same kids are now full-grown adults demanding new ways of interaction in the workspace and new kinds of learning processes that satisfy their craving for instant feedback. Meanwhile, companies struggle with worker engagement; according to Gallup, nearly 70 percent of American workers are disengaged from their jobs. What if employers could make their employees as addicted to learning more about their industry as they are to Candy Crush? What if they could get them to handle routine business tasks with as much fervor as they rack up frequent flyer miles?

Gamification is already being used in corporate settings to do just that. Using incentives like competition, achievement, status, altruism, community, and collaboration, businesses can see improvement in overall engagement using gamification in five key areas.

Recruiting

A well-written resume and a great interview don't always reflect the actual skills or motivation level of a new hire. Asking applicants to play games that reflect the responsibilities of current job openings is a useful way to assess their skills in an environment that's more reflective of real life. In this context, recruitment-based games could also be used to assess broader skills more generally applicable to higher level positions, such as conflict management and pattern recognition. L'Oreal has already started using games as part of its recruitment process to identify the potential strengths of applicants and direct them to the appropriate departments for interviews. 

Training

Training employees to hit the ground running on day one isn't always practical in real life, especially for startups. And while some companies like Google ensure that new hires go through an extensive two-week training process, the theoretical knowledge that new hires gain doesn't always stick when they start doing actual work.

However, by gamifying the training process, companies can make the professional learning process stickier and more engaging, while also helping their workers more effectively cover all their bases during their first few weeks on the job. By having workers try new skills in a risk-free environment and apply them on the job, companies start their new hires off not only with the necessary skills, but also with a self-esteem boost.

HR Compliance

Human resources training is another interesting area to explore. By making learning processes more entertaining and participatory, HR departments could potentially transform their policy outreach and training sessions, as well as personify the lessons learned. In practical terms, it's the difference between sitting in a room for two hours listening to someone talk about sexual harassment versus playing a role-playing game that trains employees to identify conduct that constitutes sexual harassment -- with prizes for top scores. And nobody wants to be the boss who comes in dead last on scores for diversity training.

Ideation and Content Creation

Games and gamification aren't always about winning points. Plenty of games or game-like behavior that centers around creative play can be vital for brainstorming new solutions to existing problems, or for encouraging creative risk-taking. For example, after T-Mobile implemented gamification in their employee collaboration platform, participation skyrocketed. At Hubstaff, we've implemented gamification by bringing the team together to share and upvote our content, which has increased participation and social sharing, and consequently, our brand reach.

Gamification's promise to encourage creative behavior is potentially a lifesaver for businesses that want to tap the millennial urge to create meaningful products on their own schedule.

Leadership Development

Companies that offer leadership training games give employees the opportunity to develop their leadership skills before they're put into a position of authority. This makes employees more motivated to take on leadership positions, propose new ideas in the workplace, and also refer others to work at their company. Both Deloitte and NTT Data have harnessed the power of leadership training games to the tune of thousands of dollars generated in revenue. What's more, the employees who felt empowered to propose new ideas and take on leadership positions reported greater satisfaction in their jobs, and attrition dramatically lowered at both companies. 

Gamification is promising, but it isn't a panacea. It can't cure an office of deeper organizational problems, and employers shouldn't expect that implementing gamification in the workplace will magically make their entire workforce qualified and informed. There are three major caveats for employers who want to implement gamification in the workplace to consider:
  • Gamification can create a false set of incentives: One of the biggest problems with gamification is that it incentivizes winning over other objectives. For training and corporate learning, you don't want employees who know how to ace a test but don't necessarily know what they've been taught. Designing thoughtful programs is key.
  • Gamification shouldn't exclude other methods of learning: Not everyone in the same organization has an identical learning style, which means that gamification won't work for everyone. Some people learn best by memorization; others do so through storytelling or regular practice without any added incentives. Make gamification an option for employees when it comes to training, ideation or reaching KPIs, but don't make it mandatory.
  • Gamification ruins motivation if it's based on money alone: Working in a corporate environment has traditionally been a relationship of exchanging time and effort for money -- and this naturally leads to a lack of motivation in the long term, especially for millennials who want to be engaged in meaningful work. If you're dealing with an office of people who don't care because they feel as though they're only trading time and energy for money, monetizing your office gamification won't fool them. 
Gamification has the potential to revolutionize the entire process of recruiting, onboarding, corporate leadership training, and HR compliance. As long as companies treat their workers fairly within the context of gamification, the potential for changing workplace engagement and satisfaction is limitless.