Game On: Maximizing Workplace Gamification


All work and no play can make anyone dull, as the saying goes – but can playing games at work make a job candidate more interesting?

Leading recruiters say yes.

While certain industries have invested in simulators for years as part of onboarding and employee training – especially in high-risk and high-stress jobs, such as air traffic control – the simulation practice has spread with the ease of use of smartphone apps.

While Candy Crush or Threes may not yield much actionable workplace information (although some may offer their scores as being tantamount to MENSA eligibility), many apps combine real world information and game play to yield predictive employee performance data.

And this type of information can prove invaluable in deciphering which candidates may be very good at interviewing but may be otherwise a poor fit. (Dull, even.)

Gamifying Recruiting

Stockfuse, developed by SHFuse, Inc., uses real-time market data to test a user’s ability to achieve returns on investment. Gamers may range from students to retirees seeking to hone their investment skills.

Players trade stocks – and these investment decisions can inform employment decisions in the real world. For example, Barclays, PLC, which partners with Stockfuse, states on its Careers page that its “online assessments are carefully designed to measure the skills and capabilities you’ll need to be successful in our roles, and they’ll also give you an idea of what our roles involve.”

A stock-trading game is an easily identifiable fit for an investment bank. But what about other industries using less-synergistic apps? Whereas personality test results have long been a staple of the recruiting process, and have been validated for workplace use, it may be more difficult for applicants to understand what a certain game is actually measuring or for recruiters to rely on how a particular score corroborates a specific trait.

One company, Pymetrics, meets this concern head-on, offering 12 “scientifically-valid games” and inviting users to “play games based on decades of neuroscience research.” The company provides users with a personal trait report, and also matches users with top-fit careers and “company fits.” Individuals don’t just wait to be asked to play these games during the hiring process: visiting these sites gives them the opportunity to get noticed by recruiters and jumpstart an employment relationship.

But how games are perceived may vary depending on the applicant or employee asked to engage in the exercise. A developer, recruiter or trainer has to present the information in a way that emphasizes that the exercise is actually a tool that may show desired traits.

Put another way, it’s not all fun and games.

Failure to emphasize that the game is being used in this manner may lead a prospect not to take the assignment very seriously. This could yield problematic and unreliable information, or it may create confusion for the applicant (“This app is addictive. Should I take this seriously?”).

The HR world is addressing these issues, learning from experience and embracing gamification. Recently, consulting firm Mercer launched MercerMatch, a mobile platform that helps employers find the best performing talent through neuroscience and big data. The platform is the result of Mercer’s alliance with Pymetrics and focuses on sales. For example, an employer may ask its best salesperson to take the test and use the results to hire those whose test results show similar, desirable traits.

But could this use of data yield “cloned” results in hiring? Would using a top performer’s results favor uniformity at the expense of diversity? Hiring a prospect who scores the same way at the same game could be a simple iteration of hiring the new generation of an “old boys’ club.” After all, instead of hiring those hailing from the same privileged school or shared socioeconomic class, an employer could be using a game to achieve uniformity.

Diversity Boost or Compliance Concern?

Gamification advocates are quick to focus on the potential for increasing workplace diversity. On Stockfuse’s site, Sharon Gillam, Barclays’ Global Head of Resourcing & Graduates, says this type of partnering “will allow us to tap into a more diverse global talent pool and help cultivate students’ future careers.”

In fact, these types of applications yield actionable information that is difficult to discern from a traditional interview interaction. Scores reflecting an applicant’s decision-making ability, risk-taking preferences, planning prowess and processing consistency are all readily available to a recruiter, trainer or supervisor. These metrics shed light on performance differentiators that are not based on any individual’s assumptions of, say, the abilities of a particular sex in a specific role.

Perhaps these games are blind to certain protected traits, such as race, and work well to bring talented 22-year-olds to a company’s attention. However, these games measure reaction times, impulsiveness and attentiveness to detail. With hand-eye coordination and response time being very important to the game itself, it’s unclear how fair these tests could be for someone with a disability or to a generationally diverse pool.

Socioeconomic or ethnic biases are also a concern. The possibility remains that if an individual has been exposed to online puzzles or gaming systems, then that individual’s performance may beat the performance of candidates that have not been similarly exposed.

In this respect, gaming apps must be subject to the same scrutiny given to any other parts of the recruiting process. An employer must vet any tool being introduced into a hiring process to ensure bias-free workplace practices.

Winning the Game

Even with the potential risks inherent in any testing scheme, gamification can revolutionize an organization’s recruiting by providing access to a diverse set of candidates who may not have otherwise known they could be a true fit for a specific employer.

Recruiting is not the only way HR can use games to build ROI, of course. Predicting top performance and fit can be useful at other stages in an employee’s lifecycle, such as new-hire onboarding, employee training or career development initiatives.

Innovation games are common in leadership training sessions, allowing different teams to engage in business development and strategic thinking. Onboarding new hires can be made fun with the addition of gamification apps: how quickly can a new recruit find the nearest exit or where the CEO sits?

Using these tools in conjunction with commonsense application of applicable laws should yield defensible and demonstrably favorable results for any organization.

By making learning fun and success more predictable, HR can reap the real winnings gamification offers:

  • Controlled recruiting and hiring costs by hiring the best candidates at the outset and using accessible training and development to grow careers;
  • Increased employee engagement by making learning enjoyable;
  • Matching workers with the best roles and environments to achieve optimal performance; and
  • Retaining top performers that have mastered the required skills and shown the determination to succeed as leaders in a particular organization.

Would you like to see your company use games as part of its hiring process? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


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