3 Ways Workplace Gamification Can Backfire – And How To Avoid Them

3 Ways Workplace Gamification Can Backfire – And How To Avoid Them



Gamification is good for many things: Increasing motivation, productivity, and engagement, to name a few. A Gartner report discovered that by 2015, more than 50% of organisations were expected to add gamify to their innovation processes.

The worldwide gamification market was estimated to grow from $242 million in 2012 to $2.8 billion in 2016. This is a trend that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

But gamification is not a one-stop solution for creating “company culture.” In fact, when done poorly, gamification can have a negative impact on what you’re trying to achieved.

Here are three common instances where gamifying the workplace can go wrong – and tips for making sure these pitfalls don’t happen to you.

1When gamification becomes an added burden

Gamification goes wrong when it gets slapped on top of already onerous obligations. The worst instances of gamification show up during employee onboarding orientation and as disconnected responsibilities that take away from day-to-day activities. Mandatory fun is considered no fun at all. Your employees must consent to participate in whatever gamification technique you choose.

Related: Poll Reveals South Africans’ Workplace Likes, Loathes And Wants

To successfully increase employee motivation, your gamification strategy must pass three tests. Do employees recognise that a game is being played (i.e., are they paying attention)? Do they understand the rules? Do they believe the “game” is fair? Unless these conditions are met, your game is destined to fail.

Consider this: employees will stay at a job longer if they see opportunities for professional development. If you want your team to participate, find ways to tie your “game” to avenues through which employees can become better leaders and professionals. Platforms like Ambition, Hoopla, and LevelEleven are easy and effective ways to add gamification elements to your team’s’ existing tasks – without increasing workload. Seamlessly integrating games that offer tangible, real results with opportunities for short-term achievement and recognition are that much more powerful.

2When gamification becomes about competition


Not everyone is motivated by competition; in fact, competing day in and day out can be very demoralising for some. As one expert explains, “Competition is considered an extrinsic motivator, which doesn’t work in the long run. What drives people for the long run is intrinsic motivation — the feeling of a job well-done.”

Instead of focusing on winning, gamification must focus on achieving. Part of that is making people feel like they’re part of something bigger: That the milestones they hit are moving the company forward toward a goal they believe in. Loyal employees – and especially millennials – work for a purpose, rather than a paycheck.

“Money is important and [millennials] do enjoy making it, however, they long to be part of something bigger than themselves,” writes one expert in Forbes.

To keep your gamification strategy focused on the big picture, make sure the prizes and other incentives associated are linked to your company’s strategic goals. For example, don’t just give your “First Place” winner a gift certificate to Starbucks. Recognition goes a long way: celebrate the winner “Top Social Media Performer for February” at a company-wide meeting and schedule a VIP luncheon to recognise that employee.

3When gamification rewards destructive behavior

In a world where only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work, gamification can feel like the holy grail of increasing productivity. But engagement doesn’t necessarily lead to productivity – and this has big implications for the way your gamification is set up.

Gamification works best when measured against a common set of metrics: Number of deals closed, for example. And if those metrics are going up, then productivity is going up, and engagement must also be going up – right?

Related: The 5 Most Successful Work Environments (And The 5 Worst)

Actually, that might not be the case. A study by Harvard Business review took a closer look at the relationship between productivity and engagement.

They found that “while many studies suggest that increased employee engagement leads to improved business results in aggregate, a deeper look at the data suggests that this may not always be true at an individual level.” Engagement on the whole does not lead to higher working hours.

The key takeaway: Your metrics are the most important factor in this whole equation. Gamification must not “focus on external rewards and [belittle] the underlying activity,” states an expert at Wharton Business School. Design your gamification to make employees feel empowered in their tasks and lead to a sense of accomplishment.

Rather than gamifying a to-do list of routine work, for example, create bigger tasks that require employees to come up with their own strategy and action plan. Meeting their goals on their own terms incentivises the kind of behaviour that can help your company achieve success even without gamification.

Lisa Froelings
Lisa Froelings is a business and productivity consultant with over 4 years of experience in human resources working for a major retailer in the country before she decided to build her own business. Her interests include technology, mindfulness as well as time management.