Gamification has grown to the extent that it can sometimes be touted as a silver bullet for a host of workplace woes. Add a game element to a task purveyors say, and employees will instantly become engaged and productive.
Except that isn’t quite the case. A badly designed application of gamification can create a sense of ‘forced fun’, which can often backfire spectacularly. A study from Wharton looked at this topic in more detail and found that when fun appears forced in the workplace, it actually does more harm than good.
A lot of this can be attributed to gamification following the hype cycle created by Gartner, whereby a new thing hits the market, accompanied by extensive hype and expectation. The kind of hype and expectation that it can’t possibly meet. Only after some time has passed does that hype die down and the lessons learnt from failed implementations ensures some decent results are seen.
With Gartner also predicting that 80% of gamification efforts fail to meet business objectives, there are certainly plenty of lessons to take away. Whilst there will no doubt be some that will say that the task of any manager is to make the work itself intrinsically worthwhile, and therefore engaging and enjoyable, there will almost certainly be times when work isn’t fun.
The Wharton paper mentioned earlier highlights the importance of involving employees in the construction of each game. When the game is one created by management, it can often come across like its mandatory fun, with the result that people had negative feelings about their work.
“When games are imposed like they are in gamification, buy-in isn’t assured,” the researcher says. “If people buy into the game, we see big increases in positive affects. If they don’t buy into the game, there is a negative effect.”
So in the worst sense there are performance drops, but even when gamification is well accepted, it does not always generate stronger performances. The study found no discernible increase in performance, even amongst those who appreciated the game element of the task.
It did however make them happier at work, which has to be a good thing. So the message seems to be clear. If you want to use games in the workplace, you should at least involve people in their construction. That is if you want a happy workplace.