What Should You NOT Do When Using Gamification?

by Carrie Wiser, Senior Instructional Designer, The Game Agency

Quick Definitions:  A 10-question Jeopardy! round that challenges people to recall what they just learned is a game. Using badges, points, competition, missions, rewards, or other game-based elements to motivate people to complete courses in your eLearning curriculum is gamification.  

In an era of labor shortages and quiet quitting, more and more companies are using gamification to engage and motivate employees. Some companies, like Deloitte, have developed game-based learning experiences that engage people through the onboarding process. Other companies, particularly in sales, use points-based incentive programs and rewards to drive productivity and recognize achievements. However, amidst reports that companies like Amazon are using gamification to set unrealistic goals, there is growing concern that it can be used to exploit workers.  Let’s look at some warning signs that you are exploiting employees with gamification and tips for using it in a more ethical way.

Do not push ineffective training

Gamification can motivate people to engage with your content, but they will quickly lose interest if they aren’t learning or feel like you are wasting their time. Before you gamify a curriculum, take an objective look at each course or event and make sure it is designed well. For example, confirm that you are addressing each learning objective in a memorable, relatable way. If improvements are needed, do that first. Then strategically use gamification to motivate people to engage in targeted training that will actually help them and your business grow. 

To illustrate, IT Cosmetics designed a brand-specific learning journey with a mixture of collaborative, solo, synchronous, and on-demand training activities. Then they used a gamified, reward-driven system to drive engagement. This approach provides authentic opportunities for growth and creates a strong connection to the company’s mission and values, both of which are key to job satisfaction.

Do not drive unsustainable productivity

Points, streaks, and leaderboards can manipulate people into working (or training) beyond their limits. This may lead to some short-term gains, but in the long run, it results in mistakes and burnout. If productivity goals are not being met, do not immediately assume that people are not working hard or fast enough. Instead, communicate with employees and managers to develop a deeper understanding of their needs and constraints. Then use gamification to incentivize behaviors that will help people achieve business goals in a sustainable way. Remember to allow enough time to complete tasks or training so you are not spreading people too thin.

For example, Barclaycard realized that their goals could only be met if their phone agents developed product mastery and the ability to effectively respond to customer questions. So, they developed a two-part plan. First, training to address the product details. Second, The Training Arcade® games to assess mastery and practice customer scenarios.  85% of agents, driven by the spirit of friendly competition, replay the games because they want to see their name on the leaderboard. This leads to more exposure and interaction with the training material, ultimately giving phone agents the support they need to attain Barclaycard’s goals.

Do not prioritize speed over quality

Imagine that there are two line cooks. One makes an omelet in 9 minutes, but there are some eggshells in it. The second takes 10 minutes to make the omelet, but there are no eggshells in sight. Which cook should be rewarded? Timed games can drive people to complete things faster, but true performance improvement takes time. You do not want people to simply click through an eLearning course without really learning anything, or keep making the same mistakes on the job because they’re moving too fast. When gamifying a curriculum, reward the behaviors and results you want to encourage, such as communication skills and attention to detail—not just the person who finishes first.

For example, Lundbeck took their global sales team on a gamified learning journey. People progressed at their own pace after they successfully completed each step. The app’s analytics dashboard not only tracked which reps completed the game modules—it also tracked how each rep performed and where the learning gaps were. This opened up opportunities to recognize high performers and reteach information that may not have been well absorbed.

Do not obscure unhealthy working conditions

Gamification should not replace healthy working conditions. Games can make mundane tasks a little less boring, but “having fun at work” is not the same as taking a break. People need time away to maintain their physical health and refresh their thinking. Also, as anyone who has tracked their steps or stayed up late playing Candy Crush knows, chasing points and leaderboards can be addictive. If you are using points and competition to drive productivity,  make sure you set up guardrails to avoid unhealthy behaviors. 

The Training Arcade® gives Admins/Creators the power to set limits on an individual and group level. For example, you can control how many times an employee plays a game (from 1 to unlimited). You can also schedule sessions so that players can only engage with the game between specific dates and times.  All of these features give you more control so employees can play as much or as little as you want!

Do not replace tangible compensation

Gamification and rewards can provide an extra layer of benefit and fun, but they should not replace tangible compensation. People want to be paid fairly for the work they do. They also want to know what career opportunities will be available if they give their best effort. Expectations for compensation and promotion should be clear and separate from gamified rewards. Employees who go above and beyond to solve problems on the job should be rewarded in the real world, too. Do not assume you know what your employees want. Ask them what motivates them and where they want to go on their occupational journey. Professional development games like World of Sabrina can help employees align their values with career options.

Like any powerful tool, gamification requires expertise and skill to use well. You will see diminishing returns if you do not respect your employees’ time and effort or if you drive unsustainable goals. Instead of applying a surface layer of gamification, strategically add it to your broader professional development strategy. Start by knowing what motivates your employees—what drives them to engage, and what they need to succeed. Use those insights to craft a fun gamification strategy that supports a healthy work environment. Then when people start playing and competing, continually check in and adjust to make sure you stay on track. 

Want some advice and help creating a gamification plan? Schedule a 1:1 demo with one of our game experts. They’ll provide the experience and support you need to successfully infuse games and gamification into your training.



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