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Pauliina Tuomi, a postdoctoral researcher at the Tampere University, Pori Unit in Finland, shares findings from her research into the gamification of facilities management jobs – specifically cleaning and maintenance.

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© iStock

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04 May 2020 Pauliina Tuomi

One of the fundamental purposes of gamification is to solve problems. That is what makes games motivating. Gamification is often described as the use of game elements to improve user engagement and experience with non-game initiatives.

Gamification at work has been the interest of recent studies, looking at how it supports user engagement and enhances positive patterns in service use such as increasing user activity, social interaction, or quality and productivity of actions. Gamification primarily aims to increase users’ positive motivations towards given activities or use of technology. 

At best, gamification motivates employees and encourages them to engage with their work and the organisation. 

Studies of the gamification of different work tasks have focused mainly on conceptual considerations that are often lacking on empirical evidence. This is what we wanted to tackle. 

Our aim and methods

Our KiSA research project (2017-2018), funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund, focused on the gamification process in facility services jobs – cleaning and maintenance. 

The project manifested the process of gamifying facility services jobs from the pre-interviews of staff to the implementation of the custom-made application, WorkAI (in cooperation with Headai Ltd). Eighteen employees took part in our pilot study and filled in a questionnaire and attended semi-structured end-interview sessions. 

Organisations have become increasingly aware of the positive implications of promoting wellbeing at work. In our study, the overall approach was to explore whether the gamified approach influences both the self-awareness and the knowledge acquisition of respondents during the pilot. 

We used a gamified solution called WorkAI that aims to track the employee’s daily routines and feelings through relevant thematic areas. WorkAI – with a user interface similar to WhatsApp or Messenger – is an AI-based software robot (bot) that asks users 15 different question patterns under nine themes. It is a tool for self-evaluation. 

With the WorkAI application, the aim was to get the workers to self-evaluate different aspects of their work. The content of the application was on a general level (not profession-specific) and it dealt with work-related content widely, through the following themes: 

Emma Potter

The results of the study

The attitudes after the pilot study were positive and the gamified features implemented in the application were favourably perceived. 

Half of the respondents felt the use of application motivating, especially through the gamification elements – for example, collecting trophies and a progress map. 

Most importantly, the use application did not interfere with respondents’ work routines during the pilot. 

Key takeaways: 

  • The gamified solution needs to be easy to adapt.
  • It should not disturb work routines.
  • It should operate on relevant issues and offer new insights such as on wellbeing at the workplace.
  • Gamified elements play an important role when motivating respondents to use the solution on a daily basis. 

The main outcome of the research

The application got respondents thinking about their own behaviour. Participants started to reflect on their own attitudes, behaviour and working habits – for example, safety at work. 

Although personal development might appear to be an intrinsic outcome, as an incentive it is an extrinsic goal that can be achieved through the participation in the gamified process. As such, it is not the participation in the gamified process that motivates the participant, but the expectation of improved personal skills. 

Final thoughts

Although gamification is a major trend, it should not be used just for the sake of it. 

You need to know what you want to accomplish and use gamification to solve a specific problem. Know your target group, their background, and their competence on adapting to new methods. Understand the available technology infrastructure and, more importantly, the work description you are about to address through gamification. 

For example, based on our in-depth pre-interviews, we had to move from specific work-related tasks to more general user needs because the tasks and work environment of the facility service and cleaning workers varied substantively, even within both groups. 

Games and applications should be fast, simple, and motivating for the employees to use them. A game does not need to be complicated to be good. If an employee can only devote two minutes to a game there is no need to come up with anything complex. The well-thought-out design, the balance between the actual substance and the use of gamified features are important.