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Ethical Considerations in Gamifying Data Management in Organizations Ethical Considerations in Gamifying Data Management in Organizations
Ethical considerations become more prevalent as more organizations turn to gamification to alleviate productivity and engagement issues. How can they gamify... Ethical Considerations in Gamifying Data Management in Organizations

Ethical considerations become more prevalent as more organizations turn to gamification to alleviate productivity and engagement issues. How can they gamify data management without negatively affecting subjects or workers?

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Why Organizations Gamify Data Management 

Gamification integrates video or board game elements like scoring systems, leaderboards, levels, prize tiers, and unlockables into existing processes. For example, an app might reward customers with points when purchasing. While some companies leverage this tool for end-users, many utilize it internally.

Brands gamify data management to encourage employee productivity, track progress visually, and lessen the monotony of responsibilities like preprocessing. They aim to improve data quality, enhance compliance, and accelerate time-consuming duties like cleaning.

One of gamification’s primary benefits is engagement, as game-like elements trigger the production of serotonin and dopamine — the so-called “happy” hormones. Considering a disengaged workforce exhibits higher rates of absenteeism and unproductiveness, many decision-makers see substantial benefits in adopting this tool.

In the United States, recent trends like “quiet quitting” and “the Great Resignation” indicate the workforce’s engagement is diminishing. A 2023 Gallup poll backs this premise, revealing only 33% of people felt engaged at work. As it stands, gamifying data management may be critical in remotivating workers. However, there are ethical concerns management must consider first.

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The Ethical Considerations of Gamification

At first glance, gamification seems like a fun, entertaining motivator — how could it be ethically ambiguous? In reality, intentionally manipulating dopamine receptors with thinly veiled psychological tactics in the form of video and board game elements is a moral gray area.

Privacy 

Using data sets containing nonpublic or non-anonymized details for gamification is ethically ambiguous, as it could expose your subjects’ personally identifiable information (PII). You could be at risk of a third-party breach if your system relies on a vendor’s platform, which would likely result in regulatory fines, public backlash, and reputation damages.

Fairness

You may not consider fairness when gamifying data management — an unsurprising decision, given most video and board games contain some competitive aspect. However, while scoring structures, leaderboards, and placement systems may work as entertainment, they often do not translate well in business settings.

Suppose your workplace has a gamified categorization process where you match pairs and remove duplicates. You watch as some colleagues rise in the ranks as others slip lower — even if they’re more experienced — since they can dedicate more of their free time to mastery. This unfair dichotomy can cause infighting and further disengage people from work.

Overuse

While gamification is not inherently addictive, many techniques contain aspects that can psychologically or emotionally influence you. Scoring points, moving up on the leaderboard, or finishing a level releases dopamine. Over time, your brain may become accustomed to the feeling, leading to overuse.

Manipulation

Gamification stimulates your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations by offering enjoyment and rewards. Your enterprise may aim to improve data management, but it likely won’t consider the broad psychological effects of influencing you toward a predetermined goal. As unintentional as its manipulation may be, it is still actively attempting to modify your behavior.

Consent

Would your employer inform subjects their details are being used in quizzes, games, and puzzles? As delicate as the topic might be, consent is lawful and ethical. Besides, reducing their PII to points on a scoreboard can be dehumanizing and impact their privacy. Moreover, unless a leader builds the gamified system from the ground up, information sharing is a concern.

How to Gamify Data Management Ethically

An opt-out system addresses the ethical considerations surrounding privacy and consent. Companies should explicitly tell subjects what they collect, how they use it and how it could affect them, giving them a chance to opt in or out. If they operate in or collect information from the European Union, the GDPR mandates this level of transparency.

Since collecting and utilizing information without consent is unethical — and unlawful, in many places — decision-makers must secure digital privacy policies or written agreements from users to clarify data ownership before leveraging their details in gamified systems.

Competitive motivational tactics can feel unfair, leading to workplace conflict and productivity losses. While the spirit of competition can be beneficial, management should discourage infighting. To address the issue of fairness, team leaders should select gamification techniques that prioritize collaboration and teamwork.

Navigating manipulation and overuse requires utilizing built-in ethical safeguards. If decision-makers decide not to develop a gamification system from the ground up, they must work directly with third-party vendors — communicating clearly and constantly — to ensure it works as intended and does not negatively affect staff psychologically.

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Continuously Navigating Ethical Considerations

Managing ethical considerations in gamification is an ongoing duty, as regulations and corporate needs change over time. It’s also a shared responsibility — it requires a collaborative effort between you, your team leads, and your colleagues. Track your progress so you can revisit your needs and readjust as necessary.

April Miller

April Miller

April Miller is a staff writer at ReHack Magazine who specializes in AI, machine learning while writing on topics across the technology sphere. You can find her work on ReHack.com and by following ReHack's Twitter page.

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