Featured article: Wafa Hammedi et al. Journal of Business Research 2021; University of Namur, Belgium; IESEG School of Management, France; Texas State University, USA. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0148296320305415
In this thought-provoking (but not convincing) article, Dr. Hammedi and her colleagues ask two interesting research questions:
- What impact does gamified work have on frontline employees’ job satisfaction and engagement; and
- Does voluntary participation moderate the effects of gamified work?
The research team defines ‘gamified work’ as “a process of enhancing a service with affordances for gameful experience to support users’ overall value creation.” While they cite the prior research supporting gamification in the workplace as a mechanism to boost customers’ engagement, creativity, learning, behavior change and technology adoption, the researchers aim to understand the impact of gamified work from an employee perspective. To do this, they conducted 3 studies with a mixed methods approach, combining in-depth interviews and two field experiments.
Study 1: A qualitative, hypothesis-generating study in a telemarketing call-center which involved 26 in-depth interviews with front line employees (FLEs) and team managers
An interesting theme that emerged from their interviews was that gamified work can have positive and negative impacts on different employees within the same company. For example, while some employees felt that gamification boosted their job satisfaction, others with low job satisfaction mentioned that it created heightened stress. The researchers conclude “it seems that people who are already dissatisfied with their jobs might not have a positive experience with gamification.” In addition, some employees see the game as creating stronger team bonds, others expressed wariness of the potential shaming if they performed poorly. Some FLEs were concerned that the pressure to win might make his co-workers cheat. Of note, team contests seemed to be more appreciated by the FLEs as a method to create positive dynamics among team members.
Study 2: A field experiment in a telemarketing call-center tested the impact of gamification in the workplace on job performance and job engagement on 94 FLEs
The researchers launched a day-long competition based on each employee’s sales, and lottery tickets were awarded to the best performers. FLEs job engagement and performance were monitored two-weeks before and two-weeks after the contest. Job engagement was measured as the number of calls that each employee answered. Job performance was measured as the number of sales made by each employee.
The researchers report that gamified work had a negative impact of job engagement in the 2 weeks after the day-long contest. While they use some fancy statistics to make this claim, I am not convinced by this result. First, there is no control group to allow us to assess if the decline in sales is due to the impact of the one-day game rather than just a standard fluctuation in this business. Also, it does not make intuitive sense to me that a contest on a single day would sour the employees’ job engagement over the next two weeks.
Study 3: A complex field experiment in 5 stores of a worldwide sports retailing chain with a variety of game rules, including day-long individual- and team-based competitions for financial rewards
Data were obtained by surveys of employees: an 18-item scale for job engagement, a 3-item scale for job satisfaction, a 6-item scale for job performance, a 7-item scale for coworker relationship quality and a 3-item scale for willingness to participate in gamified work. The researchers use regression analyses and statistical bootstrapping to assess the relationships between the different scales and conclude that gamified work has a negative effect on job engagement and performance in a retailing context. “This negative impact decreases when employees reveal their willingness to participate, suggesting the need to consider consent to participate in gamified experiences.” Given (1) the variety of games and rules used at the different stores, (2) their reliance on self-reported survey data and (3) the lack of a control group, I am not convinced by the researchers’ conclusions. The researchers do make an interesting point, though: “making participation voluntary is highly recommended to increase receptivity to gamification, which does not seem fun for everyone.”
Qstream’s microlearning and knowledge reinforcement solution uses just the right amount of gamification in the workplace, putting the emphasis on the content being delivered for maximum knowledge retention. Once participants have answered the question, they get immediate answer feedback and can see their individual score as well as how they stack up against their peers on a leaderboard. In the event that an organization does not want to take advantage of the leaderboards, they can easily be disabled. However, most of our customers say this friendly competition is extremely motivating and enjoyable for their learners, leading to 90%+ engagement with microlearning challenges.
Heidi Tuftee, Sales Leadership Coach and Sales Enablement Manager at TDS Telecom, raves about the game mechanics in Qstream: “The fact that we achieved such high engagement with Qstream is a testament to how much our reps enjoyed the challenges and the friendly competition fueled by leaderboards. In fact, reps would often ask me when the next challenge was starting.” Similarly, Eliseo Manfron of Perpetuos, a Qstream partner, says, “For participants, the leaderboard has a very stimulating effect, boosting engagement and adoption.”
As the authors cite in their introduction, research has shown that properly implemented gamification can be an effective means to boost engagement, creativity, learning and behavior change. While we must monitor for potential negative effects from gamification in the workplace, it is important that we continue to take advantage of this powerful tool.