Employee Feedback

Why Gamifying Feedback Can Backfire

March 22, 2022
November 7, 2023
Lyssa Test
Lattice Team

Inspired by video game elements, gamification aims to reward individuals anytime they take a desired action. These small rewards help encourage that behavior and aim to make it an ongoing habit. While gamification is commonly used in the eLearning space to motivate students to complete learning activities, it’s not yet commonplace in the HR or engagement spheres — and for good reason. 

At Lattice, we believe that companies should never try to pressure their people to share feedback; rather, all feedback should be intrinsically motivated. Gamifying feedback can incentivize and promote the wrong behavior, making employee feedback more about points and prizes than providing actual value to the company. 

While using game mechanics with your people can result in a temporary behavior change and boost in engagement survey response rates, the long-term impacts can do more harm than good. Below, we’ll take a closer look at how gamifying feedback can backfire — and what you can do instead to effectively and sustainably improve employee participation rates at your organization. 

What Is Gamification? 

Gamification is the application of typical game elements, like keeping track of points and earning rewards, within a non-game context. Its goal is to encourage individuals to perform a specific action by motivating them with the promise of a reward. When intrinsic motivation isn’t compelling enough to push an individual to take an action, gamification aims to give them the extra nudge they need to commit. 

While in a video game, this might look like collecting enough coins to buy an “item upgrade,” like, for instance, armor or other types of gadgets, gamification can also be used in the workplace. But instead of coins, employees can collect points anytime they perform specific tasks, like completing new hire onboarding, sharing a job posting with their social media and LinkedIn followers, or even participating in an employee engagement survey. After collecting enough points, this employee might then be able to redeem them for real-life prizes like company swag or gift cards as a reward for their ongoing participation. Ideally, this reward is enticing enough to motivate the employee to keep earning points and repeat these behaviors as often as your company deems appropriate. 

Rewards aren’t the only gamification elements businesses can use to motivate employees to take a desired action. Other elements of gamification include: 

  • Using leaderboards to rank employees based on the number of points they’ve earned and inspire friendly competition
  • Giving employees virtual badges anytime they complete a task or challenge 
  • Thanking employees with playful GIFs or images anytime they complete a task 
  • Using a completion bar as a visual indicator of progress toward a goal

By using one or more of these elements, your business can try to motivate employees to take whatever action you want, whether that be referring a job candidate or participating in your employee engagement survey.  

Gamification and Employee Feedback

While it’s easy to understand how gamifying feedback can be an enticing idea for employers, it can actually be counterproductive to your goals. Here’s how: 

1. Gamification has a diminished value over time. 

In the first few weeks or months after rolling out your gamification strategy, you might see record-breaking participation across all your HR initiatives as your employees figure out how to earn points, redeem them for rewards, and climb up the leaderboard. Unfortunately, when the hype and newness of your gamification techniques wear off, you might see a decline in employee engagement — as has been reported with gamification in eLearning. It’s difficult to maintain employee interest with digital badges and incentives, and unless habits are formed, odds are your employees will eventually get bored and stop using your gamified system. 

Some employers try to get around this by having credits or rewards expire, but this backfires, too. Oftentimes, they see an influx of employees completing their challenges right before the expiration date in a dash to redeem their points for a prize before it's too late. Unfortunately, this can lead to a flurry of less actionable feedback that doesn’t provide much value to your organization. 

2. Gamification can bury helpful feedback.

When your employees share insights haphazardly, they can inadvertently bury helpful feedback your business could use to build a better workplace. While your participation rates might look exceptional on the surface, having employees churn out unnecessary feedback can undermine the efficacy of your feedback processes and make it harder for your colleagues and leadership to extract meaningful and actionable insights. 

3. Gamification motivates employees for the wrong reasons.

All in all, the biggest drawback of gamification is that it motivates individuals to take a desired action for the wrong reasons. Gamification can encourage employees to give feedback more often than they would otherwise want to, which can take away from the quality of the feedback that’s shared. Feedback that is incentivized in this way tends to be less actionable and won’t necessarily be of value to your business. While your team might be able to boast record-high participation levels, it won’t do your organization much good if none of the open-ended feedback you receive is well-thought-out and constructive

How to Motivate Employees to Share Feedback Without Gamification

Instead of using gamification to coerce employees, there are many other ways to motivate your employees to take a genuine interest in sharing and receiving feedback. Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

1. Explain why feedback matters to the company.

In order to win over your employees’ support, you need to first explain why feedback is important. Let them know that feedback shared openly between employees, teams, and leadership has the power to shape your company’s overall policies and create new initiatives that can positively impact their experience working at your organization. You can even share past examples of programs your company has introduced as a result of feedback to illustrate the potential positive impact employees can have on your organization — and workers’ day-to-day experience there. When employees know why their feedback matters, they’ll be more likely to participate with intention.

2. Focus on the important things.

Feedback fatigue can happen when you push for too much participation from employees. Find the sweet spot by encouraging a reasonable amount of participation in feedback processes and focusing on what really matters. One idea is, instead of watching who and how many people GIVE feedback, instead try tracking who and how many people ASK for it. This will give you a better sense of how healthy the feedback culture is at your company. Another idea is to reward specific instances of strong, actionable feedback. By focusing on HOW the feedback was written, you're highlighting the value of quality over quantity. In both cases, you’re calling out specific behavior you’re hoping to normalize across the organization — feedback requests and well-composed instances of feedback

It’s also helpful to utilize an intuitive feedback tool like Lattice, so that employees can focus on sharing feedback and not get distracted or dissuaded from participating in a poor user experience.

Feedback has the power to unlock the true potential of your people and your company, so any investment in making giving and receiving feedback habitual at your organization is sure to pay off. That said, building a healthy feedback culture takes time and effort. 

Ready for the challenge? Download our free eBook Getting Feedback Culture Right at Your Company to learn how to leverage your managers to catalyze feedback and build a culture of feedback within your organization. This helpful guide includes feedback conversation templates and scripts to get you started and ensure your employees have all the information they need to give and receive effective feedback.