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Editorial Team
30 Jul 2018



Games People Play. And HR Decodes: Gamification in the Corporate World

gamification in the workplace

In an age of experience, how gamification en masse can make cubicles into gaming arcades with real business value

Everyone wants work to be fun. Like a child’s play. It’s a matter of dreams for some but gamification has been a realization for employees of many companies around the world. Work is work when it’s work. It’s not work anymore when it’s play; not work anymore when it’s perfunctory. 

What better explanation can be served than when a team of online gamers solved the conundrum of the enzyme retroviral protease structure in just three weeks that lay unsolved for decades? What leading group of scientists couldn’t do, was easily solved with the gamification of the problem in the form of an online game called ‘Foldit’. The protein was arranged in the form of a necklace which had to be brought in the lowest energy state, the solution of which, was verified by X-ray crystallography to be an actual structure in which the enzyme could exist. 

Gamification is about leveraging gaming mechanics in non-gaming business situations as a classic case of Thorndike’s and Pavlov’s behavioral conditioning. These business situations can be anywhere between training and development, employee retention, employee engagement, motivation, and recruitment.  

Global companies aren’t shying away from implementing gamification for intrinsic motivation. Deloitte in cohorts with Badgeville initiated leadership programs for senior executives complete with gamified elements like status symbols, leaderboards, and badges. 

Cisco turned to games to get 650 employees certified with 13000 different certifications with the introduction of competition and partnerships to jump levels.  

Microsoft needed employees to help translate languages for local usage and was able to achieve its target- over 4,500 improved translations for native languages of 500,000 screens. The Japan team led the leaderboard. 

In pure numbers, gamification can lead to 14% higher scores in skill-based assessment, 9% increased scores in retention, and 11% in facts-based assessment.  It’s hardly a surprise the gamification market is exploding. The expected market growth is $5,500 billion in 2018.  

There are different gamification techniques involved such as- progressing to different levels, scoring points, real-time performance feedback, progress bars, and activity feeds. Not every gamification technique was meant to be equal as there is a list of least favored techniques like competition with colleagues, gifting virtually, virtual currencies, avatars, and narratives.   

Why do people or companies achieve greater results with games as a masquerade?  

Karl M. Kapp, Professor, Bloomsburg University- elaborates on gamification- “It uses different combinations of distributed learning, motivational science, and neuroscience foundations for the engagement of learners.” 

How can human resource practitioners play on the motivation and addictiveness of these games to produce desired effects? 

Strengthening Talent Management: When candidates are called for personal interviews, group discussions, and any other recruitment imperatives- rewards can be offered at every step of the process to make them bring their best foot forward. Not just that, onboarding efficiency improves dramatically.  

Internally, the top performers can be incentivized with titles like ‘best employee of the month’ and ‘star performer’ for a greater work participation.  

Breadcrumbing streamlined career path for employees: When goals seem achievable and structured in an easy step-by-step process, the employees can see their objectives clearly and where they want to be in their long-term career-planning. Training, leadership development, and diversity group attendance- all can be gamified for better results.  

Promoting corporate culture and preventing erosion of institutional knowledge: The institutional knowledge and experience handed down to the top performers must not be lost to your competitors. There must be cross-department collaborations, company volunteering programs, and product developments along with rewards for the same.  

Saying adios to monotonous administrative tasks: Some administrative tasks can’t be done away with like the completion of expense reports and benefits enrollment forms. Gamify them and see the changes follow.       

The Flip Side 

Gamification can go dastardly wrong if implemented with the intention of bringing fun into the work environment. It’s not right. This result can be obtained even with other employee engagement activities. What’s needed to be understood is gamification must have the end-result of behavioral modifications to drive business growth.  

Gamification flops for many companies owing chiefly to the above fact. The other probable reason is poor design due to which the same employees win every time and the bottom performers feel disengaged. SAP’s community network received complaints alleging cheating with multiple accounts. Loopholes in the gaming system are used unfairly to sabotage the successes of other competitors and office competitions turn really dirty. 

Other naysayers point out gaming being a coercion. As long as it is voluntary- it’s fun. When ‘mandatory’ as a regulation enters, the ‘game’ as an element exists the gamification act. A reason Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How they can Change the World and a game evangelist distanced herself from the whole scene, later on.        

Novelty is another factor. When it wears off, motivation appears corroded too. The talent managers have to bring a greater number of games into the organizational culture where variety is the core theme.  

Where does that leave gamification sustainability in the world of talent management?  

The flip side of a coin mustn’t be an anathema to managers and companies. The flip side is always there, all the time. The chinks can easily be removed by strengthening the games security, innovating on designs, and listening to people. When implementing gamification at work and before you can hit ‘start’, check why and how of long-term benefits of it for employees and for business objectives.

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