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Rewarding Staff with Employee Recognition Games

By Elliot M. Kass

Playing games at work used to be frowned on, but these days a growing number of businesses are turning to employee recognition games to acknowledge their employees and reward them for a job well done.

“Ordinarily, if your employees spend their time playing games on the job, it might signal a worrying lack of productivity and engagement,” acknowledges talent management consultancy HRSG. “But new game theories and behavioral psychology suggest that games in the workplace could be the key to promoting deeper engagement and productivity.”1


Game playing, experts say, can help ward off worker malaise by creating an environment where staff members feel recognized and rewarded for their achievements. This in turn improves worker efficiency and job retention.


“The golden rule of management is to ensure employees are happy,” notes Kevin Cronin, president of Recognition Professionals International, an HR professional association.2 “Employee games can show your appreciation for your staff and spark new life in what could be a routine day. Don’t think of the games as time wasters. If done right, they could improve employee morale and output.”


Why Recognize Employees with Games?


Purpose-oriented game playing, or gamification, applies behavior-motivating techniques from traditional and social games to non-game environments. An effective gamification program can generate a strong degree of employee loyalty and help achieve real business goals. With these principles in mind, HR can make use of game playing to recognize and reward employees for completing a wide array of frequently mundane—but nevertheless important—tasks.


In a recent interview with Chron, the Houston Chronicle’s web site, Recognition Professionals’ Cronin provided some examples of simple employee appreciation games that can be used to recognize and reward a staff:3


  • Online Trivia
    HR departments can create an online trivia game for employees to play at their desks. One way to readily do this is at PurposeGames, a gamification web site.4 The game could be about the company, which would have the added benefit of giving workers a better understanding of their employer and its industry. A significant prize can be presented to a single, overall winner, or alternatively, smaller prizes can be awarded to multiple winners of different categories or contest rounds.
  • "Minute to Win It"
    To build workplace comradery and help staffers blow off steam, different sorts of games can be based on the NBC television show “Minute to Win It.” The show features 60-second office games that are well suited for employee appreciation days. The games may sound easy, but they really aren’t. For instance, “Office Maximus” involves knocking over three reams of paper by bouncing a rubber band ball from a distance of 16 feet. During “Office Tennis,” two people use clipboards as racquets and try to hit a crumpled piece of paper into a wastebasket.
  • Beautiful Baby
    While not originally created for the office, baby shower games have adult appeal and some of them transfer well to a workplace environment. To play the game “Guess the Baby Picture," employees bring in a photo of themselves at age 12 months or younger and post it on a bulletin board or to a web site. Their colleagues then try to guess which photo goes with which fellow staffer. The person with the most correct answers wins.
  • Work Songs
    Another popular baby shower game, “The Baby Song List Game” can be adapted to feature songs about work. Employees are given a time limit to come up with as many song titles with a work theme as they can. These could include songs like “Take This Job And Shove It" by Johnny Paycheck, “Back On The Chain Gang” by the Pretenders, and “She Works Hard For The Money” by Donna Summer. Points are awarded for each song, with bonus points awarded for naming the correct artist.

Not all employee recognition games have to have an office or work-related theme. The career advice web site Wise Step advises that popular board games and old standards like musical chairs “are a great way to connect with people at work” and can be effective as part of an employee recognition program.5


Employee Recognition Games Build Team Spirit


Likewise Achievers, a developer of employee recognition and awards programs, recommends that companies set up a workplace game room, where employees can bond over puzzles and card games. For special recognition events, Achievers’ suggests taking this a step further by renting big-ticket game fare like ping-pong and foosball tables.6


Karl Kapp, author of Gamification of Learning & Instruction, believes the key to gamification is how addictive it can become across all generations of employees. Kapp says the rewards that are part of gamification encourage staffers to stay engaged and interact with each other, building relationships that will draw them back.7


And when it comes to employee recognition, cash is no longer king. A recent study conducted by O.C. Tanner and Aon Hewitt finds that recognition programs can increase employee engagement by as much as 40 percent—even in situations where the pay is substandard.8 Of the employers surveyed, 55 percent indicated that trophies and symbolic awards—such as those presented to the winners of workplace games—were among their most effective recognition tactics.9


“We all want to be recognized for doing a good job, it’s a fundamental to being human,” observes WooBoard, the maker of a game-based peer-recognition platform for employee engagement. “When we receive praise for our efforts, it reinforces the fact that other people care about us and our contribution to the team.”10



Though it may feel odd at first, a growing body of research suggests that workplace games can be an effective management tool. Small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) may wish to consider using employee recognition games.

Elliot Kass

The Author

Elliot M. Kass

Elliot Kass is a journalist who has covered global business and technology from New York, London, and San Francisco for more than 30 years.


1. “Play to win: How Gamification Is Impacting Business and HR,” HRSG; https://resources.hrsg.ca/blog/play-to-win-how-gamification-is-impacting-business-and-hr
2. Recognition Professionals International, https://www.recognition.org/
3. “Employee Appreciation Games,” Chron; https://work.chron.com/employee-appreciation-games-1173.html
4. Purpose Games, https://www.purposegames.com/adblock
5. “12 Ways to Celebrate Employee Appreciation Day,” Wise Step; https://content.wisestep.com/ways-celebrate-employee-appreciation-day/
6. “Fun, Fresh Ideas for Employee Appreciation Week,” engage, The Employee Engagement Blog; https://www.achievers.com/blog/2017/02/box-ideas-employee-appreciation-week/
7. “The Future Of Work: How To Use Gamification For Talent Management,” Forbes; https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/05/21/the-future-of-work-how-to-use-gamification-for-talent-management/#2b048b1798d3
8. “When it comes to employee recognition, cash is no longer king,” Employee Benefit News; https://www.benefitnews.com/news/when-it-comes-to-employee-recognition-cash-is-no-longer-king
9. Ibid.
10. “What’s in a Woo,” WooBoard Blog; https://blog.wooboard.com/