“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.”
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
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
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 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
10. “What’s in a Woo,” WooBoard Blog; https://blog.wooboard.com/