Should we gamify the workplace?

Gamification is certainly one of this year’s buzzwords and the science of gamification (i.e. the use of game mechanics/dynamics to drive game-like engagement and actions in non-game environments) is a topic of great interest to me at the moment.

But how can we use gamification in the workplace? And should we even try?

Whilst it’s true that there is a moral hazard to avoid, the trick to successful gamification is making sure it doesn’t feel like the target is being played. Let’s take an example that well established in the workplace: flexitime. The motivation is for an employee to accrue enough additional work time to “earn” a day off; ability is controlled by the rules that govern the flexitime scheme; and the trigger is the point where sufficient “credit” is available to take some additional leave!

I have to admit that flexitime is not one of my benefits at Fujitsu but for those businesses that have such as scheme, it has benefits in terms of employee flexibility and morale. And there are other examples where we can re-engineer our business processes and introduce some elements of gamification.

Take, for example, the idea of a results-oriented work environment. What if, instead of being paid a salary, or an hourly rate, employees were given the opportunity to pick and choose their work and remunerated accordingly? Critics may see such an approach as a return to factory processes and piecework. Others may see an opportunity to free themselves from their 9 to 5 (or 8 to 6, or 6 to 8 work routine) and work in a more flexible manner. My background is as a solutions architect. What if projects were to be crowdsourced so that a pool or architects to pick tasks from a list of activities? Different values could be attributed depending on the difficulty or time sensitivity of the task, with all architects having to achieve a minimum number of credits (but the ability to earn more if they so desired). I’m sure there many human resources issues to overcome but I can see this being the “normal” way to work in future.

Problems come when the gamification feels controlling and is associated with “Big Brother”. We have to accept that one size does not fit all – and there is a risk that employees may feel disconnected, or that they are being patronised. Most people are smart and can work out how to “game” the system – so the game mechanics need to be honed to balance motivation and ability, and to trigger employees at the appropriate times.

If we gamify the workplace though, it seems there’s a risk of destroying some of the other elements of successful collaboration. The workplace is far more than just a literal place to work. There are social and environmental aspects to consider too. If we create an internal market of competing architects what’s the difference between that and a group of independant contractors working on a project? At what point do people stop working for a common purpose (the company’s mission) and start working for their own goals? People can’t be our most important asset when we don’t have any people any more!

It may be that gamification is not appropriate for mainstream activities but can be used for those on the periphery – those that are considered extra-curricular. For example, whilst I’d like everyone to want to contribute to our Open Innovation Community, the reality is that people can opt in or out. What if we were able to gamify the innovation process with a system of rewards?

This post doesn’t really provide any answers – it does pose some questions though. How would you feel about the gamification of your work environment? And would you consider there are significant advantages to be gained, or is the risk of disruption just too great?

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog and was written with assistance from Ian Mitchell and Vin Hughes.]