Gamification: All Work and All Play
Gamification is a term applied to brands and businesses applying game mechanics and game design techniques to both virtual and real‐life situations. The idea being that gamification engages and motivates people to achieve goals. It does so by tapping into our Esteem Needs – our need to improve our status and sense of personal achievement.
The term was first coined in 2003 and by 2010 had entered the technology lexicon. However, gamification is not really a new idea. Frequent flyer loyalty schemes, which have been operated by airline companies for decades, could be thought of as early precursors to the current digital model (assuming those flyers were a little bit competitive with their points totals). Now, in an age where technology infiltrates every aspect of our lives, very obvious examples of gamification can be found everywhere: Nissan has an in‐car system that encourages drivers to compete for the best efficiency levels and stock market excitement about the possibilities presented by Pokemon Go is currently reaching fever pitch (a game that seems to have been designed from the ground‐up as a gamification facilitator for brands). But influencing consumer behaviour is not the only use for gamification. It can also be used within organisations to influence behaviour in the workplace.
Companies often utilise gamification to improve their employees’ sense of job satisfaction, to make their jobs more engaging and fulfilling. However, there is a fine line between designing game systems that enhance work and designing those that exploit workers. Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Deloitte, Sun Microsystems, IBM, L’Oreal, Canon, Lexus, FedEx, UPS, Wells Fargo and countless others have embraced games to make workers more satisfied, better‐trained and focused on their jobs, as well as to improve products and services. Google and Microsoft have created games to increase worker morale, quality control, and productivity. At Google, engineers have been able to spend an in‐house currency called “Goobles” on server time, often a scarce resource at Google, or use it to bet on certain outcomes as part of a company‐wide predictions market.
Corporate giant L'Oréal have even developed a recruitment game to attract top graduates. The game was developed with the help of experts in psychometric testing and set out to assess the skills of each individual regardless of background or experience. Participants took on the role of an avatar trainee and met people in each department who asked questions and involved them in projects, all of which were modelled on real‐life scenarios. The personalised feedback received upon completion advised the user on which, if any, area best suited their particular skills. This kind of immediate feedback is appealing to our growing culture centred on a need for instant gratification.
Employees are demanding new ways of interaction in the workspace and new kinds of learning processes that satisfy their craving for instant feedback. According to Gallup, nearly 70% 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 fervour as they upload selfies and fashion the perfect hashtag? Gamification is being used in corporate settings to do just that, by creating competition, and by extension the parameters in which to build achievements, status, communities and collaboration.
Games and gamification aren't always about winning points. Plenty of games or game‐like behaviours centre on creative play. These 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. Deloitte have harnessed the power of leadership training games, finding that trainees who felt empowered to propose new ideas and take on leadership positions reported greater satisfaction in their jobs. By gamifying the training process, companies can make the professional learning process stickier and more engaging, while also inspiring their employees to question what they’re being taught – to think laterally and suggest ideas for improvement. 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 sense that they are a significant contributor to the furthering of the business.
Gamification is promising, but it isn't a panacea. It cannot cure an office with deeper organisational 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:
- One of the biggest problems with gamification is that it incentivises 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 organisation has an identical learning style, which means that gamification won't work for everyone. Some people learn best by memorisation, others through storytelling or regular practice. Make gamification an option for employees when it comes to training, ideation or reaching key performance indicators, but don't make it mandatory.
- Gamification may ruin motivation if it is based on money alone: working in a corporate environment has traditionally been a relationship of exchanging time and effort for money. Millennials want to be engaged in meaningful work.
Gamification has the potential to revolutionise the entire process of recruiting, on boarding, corporate leadership training, and HR compliance. However, it should not be relied upon, but rather used as the valuable tool that it is. As long as companies place their employees’ best interests at the heart of the gamified situations they’re creating, the potential for changing workplace engagement and satisfaction is limitless.