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Gamification in the Workplace: How to Get It Right?

January 25, 2021

Gamification isn’t a novel concept, especially it has wide application to the educational realm. At work, this act is an ingenious way of rendering jobs more interesting; and accordingly, it motivates employees to work more productively. Though, opponents argue that this technical term poses more harm than good. Indeed, gamification in the workplace is a double-edged sword that should be subtly maneuvered to avoid its negative impacts. 

What is gamification in the workplace?

Gamification is by definition the use of game-playing features and principles in a non-game activity. This technique entails a host of activities and processes designed in a form of the game to address any given problem in an entertaining way. 

Commonly applied in a wide range of fields, gamification aims at encouraging user participation, business productivity, crowd-sourcing, academic performance, physical health, the ease of traffic congestion, and so forth. The gamified scheme named Travel Smart Journeys (TSJ), for instance, was introduced in February 2020 to handle passenger overloading in Singapore’s public transit by rewarding those who switch from the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) to the bus service in MRT’s peak hours.

Perk Hero—a contact-free payment application that employs gamification: Users can complete “custom quests” that are specific to Perk Hero locations. By leveling up, users gain experience points and are able to earn more coins to redeem rewards.

Advantages of gamification in the workplace

In working environments, interminable tasks usually deprive workers of enthusiasm and concentration. This somewhat affects business outcomes and efficiency. Gamification in organizations uses game design characteristics (e.g. points, badges, performance charts, or rewards) to give their employees more work incentives. It, therefore, alters the way companies traditionally operate. Apart from the mentioned pros, gamification programs also offer further benefits as follows:

  • These schemes enable employees to manage real-time performance and measure their progress by observing what they previously did and how they reached past targets. Thereby, they possibly look back at their wrongdoings and devise a better plan for improvements in the future;
  • Playful activities profoundly influence the staff’s creativity and commitment in a positive fashion;
  • Gamified programs would develop internal communications and other essential skills (e.g. leadership, teamwork, or problem-solving). SAP Roadwarrier, a gamified app, holds simulated customer meetings where sales assistants have to tackle customer problems to earn digital points and unlock badges. This accordingly helps them learn how to deal with different consumers.
  • Firms themselves are also the main beneficiary of gamification which presumably raises their profile as tremendous workplaces with innovation cultures. Also, some corporations use gamification to lure talented candidates. Google, for example, placed a billboard full of riddles in the Silicon Valley’s center. This is to attract skillful individuals who didn’t use the search engine but came up with answers themselves. 

See also: What Factors Influence Developer Productivity?

The dark side of gamification in the workplace

Admittedly, the positive scenario of gamifying work is merely the tip of the iceberg. Using gamification in the workplace may have dire consequences for workers and companies. This is gonna be the case if the program isn’t designed to fit every worker’s demand and competence perfectly. Despite the mechanics of game-playing solutions, the gamification office or factory isn’t exactly a game; The intended end is mostly for sparking the staff’s motivation to work in lieu of entertainment. 

The first downside is regarding micromanagement which refers to the act of managers controlling activities of subordinates with the backing of cutting-edge technologies.

When gamification goes wrong

The old story from the Disneyland Resort Hotel in California demonstrated how gamification worked inefficiently. To monitor the performance of laundry workers, managers scored them according to traffic light-like color codes. Of which, those failing to reach required targets would receive red and yellow flash from laundry machines and supervisors whenever they slow their work. Some even skipped breaks to complete jobs by the deadline. 

Gamification in the Workplace drawbacks
Gamification in Disneyland’s Laundry (Source: Boing Boing)

The scoreboard, which was called the electronic whip by Disney’s workers at that time, focused on improving productivity to maximize the company’s profits. It could have been an effective vehicle for incentivizing competition among laundry workers; but in fact, turned out an inappropriate means for managing inferiors. Human competitiveness could be the main driver of promoting them to perform better. Disney’s management exploited this trait to devise the so-called productive strategy which backfired in the case. 

What’s more, gamification is condemned for moral reasons. To illustrate, if a child is encouraged by goodwill to help his parents with housework, his act is ethically worthy. What if he’s delighted to tidy up his room or mow the lawn just for some rewards such as cash or a new bike? This gamified situation unintentionally makes his act immoral. This also applies to business. Chances are, gamification in the workplace frustrates the unconditional contributions of workers to the entire company and other colleagues. They even stop at nothing to obtain digital points unlocking badges and rewards. 

You still can capitalize on gamification, if you do it right.

Despite warnings about the adverse impacts of gamification, it’s still a valuable technique to increase employee motivation and engagement if the gamified system is to suit every worker’s demand and capability to build a win-win situation. The success of gamification depends on who gets involved in the design to guarantee all important factors are taken into account. Mike Brennnan, the president and chief service officer at Leapgen shared this view. Accordingly, the first consideration to exploit all positive aspects of gamification is giving every worker an equal opportunity

Indeed, different individuals possess different characteristics, motivators, and jobs. A quiz full of programming-related questions can be pretty easy for software developers, whereas salespeople would find it insurmountable to win. Therefore, gamified programs should benefit all parties, regardless of their positions and incentives. By answering such questions as “What’s the game’s goal?”, “Who participates in the game?”, “Is it suitable for the target subjects?” or “Which criteria are included?”, those engaging in the game design process may set up a proper system.

Gamification in the Workplace get it right
Equal Chance for all Workers (Source: GradAustralia)

Another tip is difficulty levels of the gamified system. Inevitably, any worker easily earning points might quickly lose enthusiasm for work. Meanwhile, the gamification project may fail provided its missions are too challenging to complete, which even makes employees more daunted. So the right degree of difficulty is a must.

Entailing gamification in employee training is a pretty successful option for multiple companies. Take Cisco as a typical example. Years ago, the firm launched a Social Media Training Program that allowed the staff to take courses on social media skills and receive certificates to prove their accomplishments. This solution is also widespread among corporations such as Salesforce to help improve the professional skills of workers and provoke their interest in assigned tasks. 

A case study from Designveloper: Boonapp

At DSV, we have our own way to strengthen interpersonal communications and show appreciation towards those assisting others. Developed by the DVS team, Boonapp is a gamified solution in such a case. The philosophy of Boon is rather straightforward. Each time you support your coworker, you will receive some boons which are equivalent to certain rewards by the end of the month. 

The current UI of Boonapp.
An example of Boon rewards.

The system will give each employee 100 boons each month. It also automatically reset this number at the beginning of the month, and the allotted boons do not convert into rewards. Merely boons you receive from others are acceptable. The staff member with the highest number of boons will receive respectable rewards as well.

Companies are using their endeavors to help their people perform better by using gamification in the workplace. Nevertheless, it is also a controversial topic in light of its pros and cons. Should senior managers know how to use it properly, they may take advantage of gamified apps to boost productivity and polish the corporate image. Otherwise, gamification translates to a demotivation tool that poses companies to unanticipated risks. 

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