Game on: Using gamification for recruitment and engagement

Amanda Woodard


written on October 21, 2015

As the baby boomers retire, the video and computer game-playing younger generations are starting to dominate the workforce. All that time spent honing gaming skills has often been dismissed as time wasted. Well, maybe not. Now interactive tools that such games are based on are proving useful in fields beyond mere entertainment – in work, training and recruitment.

“Work has changed,” says Kris Duggan, co-founder and CEO of the California-based business software company BetterWorks. “Social collaboration, fast feedback, digital reputation – these form the new expectation of work. And people who have grown up accustomed to playing video games also expect engaging work experiences.” 

The company has developed “a next generation performance management platform” using elements of video game participation built around recognising people’s achievements in the workforce. Employees have a personal dashboard where, as ‘players’, they set their own goals, track progress and score points. “We’re taking some of the elements of what makes those video games fun and engaging and harnessing those techniques.”

At Deloitte’s emerging-technology research hub, Centre for the Edge, chief edge officer Peter Williams says if a game is ‘naff’, it can turn people off. “But if you take parts of game mechanics and apply them to any [organisational] process, you engage people.”

Such platforms are moving away from KPIs to objectives and results, says Williams. “Gamification turns performance management into an ongoing thing rather than a periodic thing. Employees ask ‘What activities do I need to undertake to affect the scoreboard?’”

The employee engagement and recognition platform WooBoard takes it one step further. When a team or individual reaches a goal, employees receive a ‘Woo!’ from their peers as a way of creating a culture of recognition and appreciation. Ernst & Young, ninemsn and UniSuper are just a few of the companies Wooing each other right now.

Gamification is also seen as a way of getting people through the drudgery of a job’s more menial tasks. “If there is anything that can make those tasks more exciting and involving, such as by tracking and awarding credit, applying scores and ranking, then that’s worth doing,” says Duggan.

If you can gamify a process, you reward behaviour and it’s like a dopamine release in the brain, and “humans like a game”, says Frank Farrall, lead partner at Deloitte Digital.

He likens it to getting children to tidy their bedrooms. “If we say ‘Let’s see who can clean their room the fastest and I’ll set the timer to 10 minutes,’ they respond to that. It’s being creative with the framing.”

Recruiting insights

Professional services firm KPMG Australia has teamed up with Revelian to combine the gamification of its recruitment assessment with analytics, big data, predictive psychometric models and cloud technology to measure the abilities of graduate job candidates.

“These young people are digital natives,” says Susan Ferrier, KPMG Australia’s head of people, performance and culture. “To get a true understanding of their potential, we have to immerse them in an assessment where they will respond naturally, rather than a host of interviews and written tests.

“Candidates are given 10 minutes to complete the game, where they are likely to exhibit realistic responses to specific situations. The results provide deeper insights into candidates’ strengths and abilities than traditional assessments,” she says.

Candidates are also asked to film their own ‘selfie’ video interview, in their own time and with their own content.

KPMG says the new recruitment process is more effective and efficient. The number of applications that need to be reviewed has been cut by 79 per cent and allows the business to review the top talent using robust data to support their selection, including the ‘live’ video interview. All this happens prior to invites for the national round of in-person interviews, which have been reduced by 58 per cent.

Taking the guesswork and gambling out of recruitment is becoming a business imperative. The competition for high-potential talent means that a middle-manager’s gut reactions and candidate self-assessment just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Start-up companies have been quick to respond to this growing demand for data, and venture capitalist investment in gamification has surged. Knack was one of the first companies in California’s Silicon Valley to develop gaming assessment tools. Players in its 2013 Wasabi Waiter game run a fictitious restaurant by assessing customers’ expressions, completing tasks and keeping patrons happy.

Knack founder Guy Halfteck says his games are a way to find “that special someone” for his clients’ firms. He told Al Jazeera that every company believes there is a unique secret sauce that makes people successful in the specific roles it requires, and the games’ data insights are the ingredients that make the sauce.

British Recruitment Games company Arctic Shores has a similar message: “If you want to recruit the brightest of a generation hard-wired to levelling up and navigating challenges, a questionnaire, however well-disguised with great graphics, is simply not going to hit the mark.”

Games that can accurately and more cheaply lead to finding the right candidate by correlating personality traits with an organisation’s strategic goals is a seductive concept that has other, similar companies popping up all over the world. They include ConnectCubed in Hong Kong and Shezartech in India.

But there are critics who argue that their clients are just attracting clones who all think the same way. And while millennials may be at ease with computer-game tests, older workers could feel intimidated and disqualify themselves as potential hires.

Mujcic says that’s not a problem; it all comes down to good, simple design. “You don’t have to be a gamer. The designs minimise disadvantage and have built-in tutorials.”

Writing in The New York Times, Duke University economist Dan Ariely agreed that recruitment needed to become more data-driven, but he cautioned against over-emphasising what could be measured and underplaying less quantifiable softer skills such as empathy or negotiating ability. For that, human interaction was still a better option, he said.

As a final note, consider that, according to the Digital Australia 2016 report, 98 per cent of homes with children under the age of 18 have a device for playing computer games. The future of organisational game-based work and learning would seem to be in skilled hands already.

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the October 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Game on’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.

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