Are you using gamification in your human resources functions?  Have you even heard of it?  Perhaps not, but some predict it’s the future of the workplace.  Gamification is the application of gaming processes to non-gaming applications.  Basically, it makes work more fun and engaging by adding gaming elements and achievements to what might otherwise be boring and mundane tasks.  In human resources, gamification has been applied to recruiting, training, and employee performance. 

Research tells us that a large majority of American workers are not engaged in their jobs.  This disengagement leads to higher rates of employee turnover, lower morale, and less productivity.  Gamification seeks to address these concerns by achieving higher levels of engagement on the job.  Most of you are familiar with the leadership boards used in sales to motivate and celebrate sales and stimulate competition.  Imagine applying those elements to non-sales workers.  

Let’s say, for example, that your employees have to satisfy multiple training modules on an annual basis, and maybe it is like pulling teeth to get their cooperation to timely complete these modules.  I know this stretches the imagination but bear with me.  Now suppose that these modules have been modified to allow for leveling-up as skills are attained (or refreshed).  Employees both earn badges for each module completed and earn points based on how timely they completed these modules.  Co-workers could see who has earned badges and who the point leaders are.  Suppose then that the top scoring employees got an actual reward – like half a day off or a two-hour lunch break – for completing their annual training.  Some employers have found that gamification has replaced pulling teeth.  

Think about what gamification has done in this very simplified example.  It breathes a little competition and interest into otherwise mundane or painful tasks.  It engages employees.  It modifies employee behavior to achieve a result desired by the employer.  Success within the module results in leveling up and ultimately a reward, which means that feedback is immediate.  It sets clear goals to be achieved, and those goals are achievable.  It provides feedback to managers as well.  An employee who is having trouble with a module will be identifiable, and additional training can be given to that employee to help him succeed.  Lastly, HR is assisted by the computer’s retention of those who have completed each module, making recordkeeping easier. 

One selling point of gamification has been that it will keep the “gaming generation” feeling more engaged and committed as they enter the workforce.  However, I recently spoke with a start-up founder of a gamification app who also happens to be a member of the “gaming generation” about to enter the workforce and he wasn’t buying that selling point.  He told me that he and his peers are no more attracted to an employer who uses gamification in recruiting, training, or other processes than those who did not.  Beyond that, he made some other valid points that you might want to take to heart if you’re considering adding gamification to your workplace: 

  • Adding gamification just for the sake of having it adds no value.  The gaming generation is used to beating the game and moving on because they’ve gotten all they wanted out of the game.  Think about the $70 video game you got your kid for Christmas only to have him announce to you before you even rang in the New Year that he had already beat the entire thing.
  • Adding gamification to a bad product (or a bad process) still leaves you with a bad product (or process).  Gamification doesn’t fix something that’s broken, but it can help you get more out of your workers where specific behaviors need to be modified.
  • Gamification doesn’t work unless the incentives are real.  The person I spoke with could see where gamification has valid application in the health and wellness context because the individual is seeing and feeling the results as they get healthier, and the competitive element can keep you motivated.  Badges and leaderboards alone won’t always make gamification work, though.

The jury is still out on whether gamification techniques have the efficacy to be the wave of the future in human resources practices.  In my view, gamification might add value to the workplace in a few areas.  I’ll talk about those next time.  Until then, what do you think about gamification?


Vanessa Towarnicky's primary focus is in the area of labor and employment law. She has been involved in representing clients in various employment cases, including sexual harassment; deliberate intent; age, race, and disability discrimination; wrongful discharge; and various other employment-related torts. She is admitted to various state and federal courts as well as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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