Gamification should be used cautiously

Summary : gamification is an incredible means to lead employees to new ways of doing things. Underestimating it because it does not look serious enough among old practices would be a big mistake. That said, the opposite excess should also be avoided : not only gamification is nothing but an update of old practices but, used as a presentable outer garment instead of in the context of a deep renewal of internal practices, it can be be seen as an infantilizing manipulative short-term practice.

Each year comes with its trendy concept. This year it was gamification, what was a good thing because we could have had to deal with something more empty. But, like with any new thing, there’s an obvious risk of seeing it as magic want that will help to solve any issue without any effort. As Claude Super wrote[post in french, use Google Translate], addingsuch a system to the existing without questioning further the reason of the need and position it into a wider approach is pulling the wool over one’s eyes. Over and above the fact that the link between gamification and individual appraisal can be misleading, causing social and even legal issues.

That said, no one should overlook the potential of gamification. It helps making some things  ni-to-do and, most of all, position employees in a meaning and suggestion driven journey instead of a formal and constraining system…even if in the end the expected result is the same but achieved in a more pleasant way.

But we should pay attention to a couple of points and beliefs.

• Belief that gamification will fix everything

I recently read one more article on “social fatigue”. Facts are easy to understand : people are over-seeked, so they participate less. To fix the system, more engagement is needed and engagement will come from gamification. Ok…you know what I think of engagement when used irrelevantly. But if everyone does gamification to stimulate engagement we’ll be back to the starting point with still one scare resource to share : people attention. So if one actor only adopts gamifcation he’ll get a competitive advantage against all the others, but if everybody does nothing will change and the question may become : “how to engage people so they play so they’ll be engaged so they’ll participate”.

•Belief that a little gaming will solve deep problems

If employees are reluctant to doing something, or even refuse to di it, there are many chances the cause is deeper that the lack of fun of the task in question.

• Belief that gamification is a means to arbitration

In a world of over-seeking, people will prefer to allocate their time to a gamified activity rather than a non-gamified one. That’s overlooking the notion of criticality and take the risk of seing essential tasks abandoned or depreciated.

• Belief that badges will demonetize relationships

The system has been around under one form or another for decades or even centuries. “If you’re a nice guys and do things well you’ll get a reward”. So some tasks suddenly looked more attractive because, in the end, one earned the right to fly business or first, a brand new iphone to replace the old blackberry etc.. On the customer side, airlines have been making the most of it for ages :  when you fly you earn miles, your miles makes you become “silver”, “gold” or even “platinum” and you can even use them to buy trips or upgrades.

Today, first class tickets and iphones have been replaced by badges but the approach is still the same. As a matter of fact, it’s often explained like this : “you ask people to engage, participate, give…and you think they’ll do it for free ?”. Hence the badge. And then, here’s whay I say about that : how long do you think it will take to see people say “you’re replacing monetary or monetizable rewards with badges and claim you don’t think we’re stupid ?”. I know that the fabulous social world that’s supposed to come one of these days has nothing to do with such materialist reflections, that no relationship should be impacted by something as dirty and evil than money but… Ok. Just wake up !

But there are still best practices that should inspire those who try to follow this path. For example, mobile carrier GiffGaff in the UK. They outsource a large part of their support toward their customers. What is logical and cost efficient for a company with such a business model. But while some similar companies are happy that their passionate customers allow them to not hire support people or even fire them (real case..), GiffGaff rewards its community by giving credits that can be used to buy a phone, options…or can be given to a charity. A model that’s much more healthy and shows more respect to customers.

What matters is not the monetary side of the relationship but the respect of employees and customers that’s lies behind the game mechanics.

Should it make us come to the conclusion that using the “good” values of the 2.0 work to start a massive program of infantilizing the enterprise-customer/employee relation may backfire one day ?


Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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