Pros and Cons of Gamification in the Workplace

Many companies, open source communities, and even software applications incorporate elements of game playing, such as badges, rewards, and competition, to make tasks more fun and engaging. Such gamification in the workplace first took off more than a decade ago, writes Katy Milkman in a recent Wired article.

At the time, Milkman says, there wasn’t much evidence for the value of gamification; the concept just seemed to make sense. “Technology companies like Cisco, Microsoft, and SAP, for instance, found ways to gamify everything from learning social media skills, to verifying language translations, to boosting sales performance.”

“Today, we know a lot more about when gamification really works, and what its boundaries seem to be,” Milkman writes. “Beyond the gamified apps and software we use to learn new skills, companies like Amazon and Uber now deploy it to boost worker productivity.” But, she adds, “it’s important to understand when gamification will work—and when it will only make matters worse.”

For example, Milkman says, “gamification is unhelpful and can even be harmful if people feel that their employer is forcing them to participate in ‘mandatory fun.’” 

“Gamification can tank when players don’t buy in,” she says. “At its best, gamification seems to work when it helps people achieve the goals they want to reach anyway by making the process of goal achievement more exciting.”

Read the complete article, which is adapted from Milkman’s book, How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, at Wired.

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