Innovation

Gamification: Having “serious fun” at work

22 February 2017 by Alywin Chew

The terms “work” and “play” have traditionally been mutually exclusive in workplaces - but the line between these two activities is becoming increasingly blurred, as an increasing number of employers leverage the mechanics of gaming and, in some instances, even digital games, to empower their employees.

Known as “gamification”, this approach aims to make the learning of new skills at work more fun and interactive. It has also been found to improve employee morale, boost loyalty and increase employee retention.

Last year, Badgeville, widely regarded as the global leader in gamification products for businesses, conducted a market survey in the US and discovered that 78 percent of respondents were utilising game-based elements in the workplace, with nearly everyone agreeing that gamification does help to boost engagement and productivity.

According to a research paper by Accenture Singapore titled Why Gamification Is Serious Business, gamification in the workplace often includes the use of leader boards and rankings - visual elements of gaming that allow employees to see where they stand among their peers. Experts say that this in turn evokes their competitive nature and motivates them to outdo their peers. This is just one of many ways gamification could be used in a workplace to improve company performance across the board.

Reviewing talent effectively

Many video games revolve around a reward-based system - where players of a fantasy game would often be able to earn a new weapon or piece of armour after killing the monsters in a dungeon. Gamification works on the same premise.

Based on an article in The Institute, the member newspaper of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in 2011 Japanese IT consultancy NTT Data had tapped on this element of gamification to evaluate the capabilities of their employees.

In a digital game that was specifically designed for this purpose, employees had to use their problem- solving and negotiation skills to get past a samurai who was guarding the passage to the objective at the top of a mountain.

Players were awarded points at the different stages of the game, and those who reached the summit were earmarked as potential leaders for the firm. NTT Data claimed that this gamification approach has helped them lower resignation rates by 30 percent, while more than 50 percent of the employees who played the game went on to assume leadership positions.

Increasing productivity across functions

Tech giant Microsoft had created a “Language Quality" game several years ago that challenged its employees around the world to ensure that translations for their products and services in respective native languages were accurate. The game also came with a leader board that displayed the scores of top employees and countries, and while there were only bragging rights to play for, 4,500 users signed up for the challenge and helped to spot nearly 7,000 errors – at no cost to the company.

The National University of Singapore is also no stranger to gamification software, having used the IBM Business Process Management (BPM) simulation application called Innov8 as part of their curriculum for business studies. Innov8 helps students better comprehend how BPM affects the business eco-system through an interactive game where players have to run a city.

New-age recruitment tool

Singapore companies too have been quick to get in on the gamification action in their recruitment efforts. Local start-up Flocations used HackerTrail, a gamification app that connects job seekers with companies, to search for a web developer.

Instead of simply submitting resumes, job seekers using the app can take part in challenges that have been designed based on a company’s recruitment needs, and those who perform well in these tests naturally boost their chances of landing a job interview. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore was one of HackerTrail’s latest clients.

“Software developers like to be challenged so we made this competition tough. Selecting candidates through a competition may not be new – Google does this – but what we have done is to tailor ours specifically to the requirements of the job, testing not just their technical skills but also their problem-solving abilities,” said Mark Lim, Deputy Director of IDA’s Government Digital Services, on IDA’s website.

Engaging the new generation workforce

The rise of gamification comes at a time when companies are taking keener interest in the engagement levels of their employees - especially the millennials - generally defined by those who are born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s. A 2015 report by Gallup revealed that millennials are the least engaged employees in workplaces, and a 2011 PricewaterhouseCoopers research paper, titled Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace, described millennials as “a talented and dynamic generation”, the best of whom are “hard to find and even more difficult to keep.”

The research found that low engagement levels in millennials are related to a large disparity between what they expect from their companies and their actual working experience. The report concluded that “superficial changes that are intended to connect with younger workers, such as unconvincing social media outreach programmes, ‘greenwashed’ corporate values and diversity tokenism will not work.”

And it seems like gamification might just be the perfect solution, given how millennials have a strong affinity with digital media. This is especially so in Southeast Asia, according to Why Gamification Is Serious Business, which stated that this region ranks among the most promising territories in the world for game-based innovations. Singapore and Malaysia, for instance, boast some of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world. “Game technologies are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace since they appeal to the millennial generation, which has grown up playing video and computer games together with using mobile devices,” said Professor of Management Harold G. Kaufman, at the annual Conference on Human Capital Innovation in Technology and Analytics, held in New York earlier in April.

 “But this is much more than fun. Serious games can generate up to millions of data points that can then be fed into machine-learning algorithms to help employers make smart HR decisions to win the war for talent.”

Similar to the video gaming industry, the gamification industry is expected to experience significant growth in the coming years. A market research report released this year by MarketsandMarkets revealed that this particular industry will reach US$11.1 billion by 2020, indicating that, perhaps, workplaces are about to get more enjoyable.

Edited by Liew Hanqing and Tan Yi Xuan