Departments - July/August 2014

>> the insider

Not a Good Mix

By Deborah L. Vence


Gamification might be a hot technology, but many American workers don't believe it belongs in a recognition program.

This, according to Globoforce, which queried U.S. workers through an online survey earlier this year. The study showed that 70 percent of U.S. employees surveyed don't feel gamification belongs in a recognition program. (The report, called the Spring 2014 Globoforce Workforce Mood Tracker, takes a look at the current attitudes and perspectives of U.S. workers about workplace technologies and milestones and their role within recognition programs.)

"While there are many different interpretations of gamification in the workplace, there is one common theme among employees today. They are wary of anything that may trivialize significant work accomplishments. While gamification can be effective in some areas of the business world, it can have negative consequences in a recognition program," said Derek Irvine, vice president, client strategy and consulting, Globoforce, a company that specializes in social recognition solutions with headquarters in Southborough, Mass., and Dublin, Ireland.

And, two use cases are worth exploring, he said.

The first involves a gamified system that rewards the behavior of nominating (within a recognition program), often in the form of leaderboards or badges.

"This can poison a recognition program since it introduces an artificial element into something that needs to be organic and inspired. This skews the recognition data as well, as employees are being rewarded for behaviors other than just great work performance," Irvine said.

"If co-workers are given credit or points for giving recognition, 60 percent of respondents feel it means less to the receiver. The leaderboards, we heard from millennials, cheapen the recognition experience. We caution leaderboard use in a recognition program, particularly to rank the top recipients or nominators within a company," he added. "This creates a competitive, artificial element in a recognition program as it rewards the wrong types of behaviors."

The second case involves a recognition program including "free" recognition in the form of online badges or what are called "thumbs up" icons. Whether recognition is given by a colleague or a manager, there still needs to be a scale of the level of recognition that is reflective of the level of achievement.

"Without differentiation, recognition loses its relevance. An employee might get a 'thumbs up' because he helped a colleague set up furniture for a meeting," Irvine said. "But, when an employee saves a company a million dollars by discovering a flaw in a new product, should [the employee] also get a 'thumbs up'? These are both actions worthy of appreciation; one is clearly more valuable than the other, and the reward should be appropriate to the scale of the achievement."

He went on to say that employees also don't believe that gamification is a positive addition to recognition because it shifts the focus from the recipient of recognition to the nominator.

"We asked respondents if they thought it would be a positive addition to their recognition programs. A full 70 percent of them said it would not, and indicate gamification would reward the wrong type of behavior," Irvine said.