Top 10 Objections to Gamification (and the Best Way to Respond)

User engagement should always be a primary consideration for any L&D strategy. We must provide a clear reason for employees to choose a learning experience over the myriad of other things they could do with their time. First, our experiences must provide clear value to the user. Engagement—and, dare I say, fun—is a very close second. Gamification, despite all of the possible objections, is a great way to set employee learning experiences apart in the endlessly cluttered world of work.

During the past decade, gamification has received its fair share of skepticism regarding its potential to impact employee learning and performance. But, when applied effectively and in combination with other effective learning techniques like microlearning, gamification has the power to significantly improve employee engagement and business outcomes.

Conversations about gamification have evolved during the last two years. The talk is less about gamification as a defining trend and more about how real businesses are using it with great success. We’re starting to see the results of multi-year gamification implementations. Technology is enabling more meaningful, engaging user experiences. Business stakeholders have become more comfortable with the concept, especially now that it no longer seems like just a “trendy” thing to do—prompting organizations like Bloomingdale’s, Walmart, Pep Boys, and many others to leverage it for boosting key business results. Overall, it feels like a great time to dig into gamification as a way to address difficulties with workplace engagement.

Whether you’re just getting starting with the idea of gamification or trying to perfect your strategy, you’re likely to run into some of the same challenges I, as well as many others, have encountered. Here are the 10 most common objections to gamification as well as how to respond, including follow-up questions for discussion.

Objection 1: “I don’t get what gamification is all about.”

Response: Simply stated, gamification is an opportunity to improve employee motivation and engagement at work—two vital considerations for the modern workplace. Advances in technology mean we have the ability to use the same kinds of game mechanics used in the real world (like earning badges for contributing content online or gaining points for taking actions that promote a particular brand) to improve employee learning and working activities.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

How are we already using game mechanics with our customers?

Where do you encounter game mechanics in everyday life (e.g., loyalty programs), and how have they motivated people to engage in an activity?

Objection 2: “Games are a waste of productive work time.”

Response: Letting people play games all day would certainly not be a valuable use of work time and, fortunately, that’s not what gamification is all about. Gamification uses familiar methods (such as game play, points, rewards, and leaderboards) to motivate employees to engage in learning that helps them do the things management already wants them to do on the job, such as reach performance goals, complete training activities, or share their knowledge with their peers.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

How much time and effort, and how many resources, are we currently wasting trying to get our employees to engage in taking the right actions on the job without any result?

How much value would added engagement provide to our employees, customers, and business? Is this value worth the trade for the small amount of time dedicated to gamification activities?

Objection 3: “Older employees won’t like this.”

Response: While gamification does appeal to “Millennials,” repeated studies have proven that game mechanics are about individual preference, not demographics. Factors like age and gender don’t make a difference when it comes to the potential for gamification impact, which means it’s important to put aside assumptions. For example, while many people may assume males dominate the gaming industry, adult women now make up the largest demographic. An effective gamification strategy is designed to accommodate individual preference and workplace culture, not generalizations.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

On what evidence are we basing our assumptions regarding demographics and employee engagement?

How does the reality of a multigenerational workforce relate to the potential of gamification?

Objection 4: “This won’t work in our culture.”

Response: Every company culture is unique. What works for one organization won’t automatically work for another. The same is true for gamification. Game mechanics have a proven impact in the real world across all demographics and use cases. To be effective in a particular organization, the gamification strategy must take into account the unique elements of the culture and what truly motivates and engages the company’s employees. Take Toyota, for example. The company puts together a huge knowledge-based competition every year for its dealership reps that encourages them to compete on what they know about their products for a chance to win prizes, including a trip to the Super Bowl.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

What unique elements of our culture should we keep in mind when designing programs focused on employee engagement and motivation?

In what ways may our current perceived culture potentially be inhibiting our ability to try new ideas and evolve as an organization?

Objection 5: “We’re giving people points and badges. So what?”

Response: Badges and points aren’t valuable on their own. An effective gamification strategy ties game mechanics, like points and badges, to real-world value (see the article on Pep Boys linked above). This could include a variety of value propositions, such as tangible rewards, certifications, credibility, or even bragging rights in a highly competitive environment.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

How are we already using symbolic items, such as certificates and pins, to recognize employee accomplishments?

What types of workplace accomplishments and recognition would employees potentially find worth sharing with their peers and managers?

Objection 6: “I can see how this would work for front-line employees, but this isn’t for professional roles.”

Response: We all learn all the time, regardless of our roles. While the process is consistent, the topics and context in which we learn change based on the nature of our work. Employees in professional roles often have high levels of autonomy, unique knowledge requirements, and considerable time constraints. (Check out these PDF documents—profiles of employees who work in professional roles at MCAP, a call center; TBC, a tire distribution firm; and Ethicon, a division of Johnson & Johnson—to get some additional context on this subject.) For these individuals, engaging and high-value learning experiences are of great importance. Not only does gamification fit in this context, but it can also help address the variety of different motivators needed with such a diverse audience.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

Do we struggle when trying to engage employees in professional roles in continued-learning opportunities?

What are the potential benefits of using similar strategies to develop our employees in front-line and professional roles?

Objection 7: “There’s no proof this will work.”

Response: We’re now starting to see evidence of the impact gamification can have on employee engagement and business results long-term. Ethicon (see above) regularly sees 90 percent voluntary engagement among its medical sales teams within its gamified training platform—and that’s just one example. To achieve early success with gamification, it’s essential to leverage the knowledge and shared experience of gamification thought leaders to create a unique organizational strategy.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

How do we typically introduce new, innovative ideas within our organization?

Which audience(s) may be most ready to try out our gamified strategy based on their willingness to accept new ideas and related business objectives?

Objection 8: “We don’t have the time or money to build games.”

Response: Gamification isn’t about building big, complicated games. The power comes from using simple, familiar game mechanics in meaningful ways. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways using right-fit technology. You also don’t have to jump in with every game mechanic available. It’s about finding the right place to start based on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

What tools are we already using that have gamified elements, such as points, leaderboards, characters, or achievements?

Who are the right potential partners to engage to help us better understand how we can apply gamification to our workplace?

Objection 9: “Games have to be integrated with the learning experience to be effective.”

Response: The relationship between a game and a learning activity is based on the organization’s desired outcome. Learning games, such as simulations, can deliver content in a gamified manner. Casual game play can also engage users with or without direct connection to the learning experience. This type of simple game can motivate users while creating an improved readiness state, or “flow,” that better prepares the user to receive training content. Have you ever tried to interrupt someone while they’re playing a game? Then you have experienced the impact of flow.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

On what research are we basing our beliefs regarding the connection between games and learning?

How engaged do we believe our employees are today with the learning activities we provide? How impactful could an increase in this engagement level be for the same activities?

Objection 10: “It’s going to be impossible to keep people interested.”

Response: Gamification is about human behavior, and that’s a very complex topic. Some early studies pointed to a novelty factor with gamification, suggesting that initial bumps in engagement will quickly trail off as the mechanics become less motivational. However, new research—including findings from Karl Kapp working in collaboration with Axonify—has shown that a well-designed gamification strategy that takes this into account can sustain user interest over time. For example, after more than three years, the impact of elements like rewards, achievements, and leaderboards has not noticeably changed for sample users who initially found value in these types of motivators.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

How have our learning and engagement strategies evolved during the past 10 years to account for changing employee needs and business objectives?

Which subject matter experts and resources should we consult regarding complex workplace issues, such as human motivation and the science of learning?

Responses like those above should help you engage in more meaningful conversations about gamification with your peers and stakeholders. I also suggest sharing third-party content as a discussion follow-up, including research studies and articles from recognized thought leaders, when appropriate.

User engagement should always be a primary consideration for any L&D strategy. We must provide a clear reason for employees to choose a learning experience over the myriad of other things they could do with their time. First, our experiences must provide clear value to the user. Engagement—and, dare I say, fun—is a very close second. Gamification, despite all of the possible objections, is a great way to set employee learning experiences apart in the endlessly cluttered world of work.



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