Pokémon Go: Is game a disruption or a wellness tool for employers?

Fanatical users of Pokémon Go are eager to catch all of the monsters they can, even if it means looking for a Charmander under a colleague’s desk.

According to a Forbes poll, about 69 per cent of Pokémon Go users admitted to playing the game in the workplace, and a third of respondents said they had spent more than an hour playing at work.

Mike Byerley, human resources manager for SSP Canada Food Services Inc., says while he’s aware of the game’s popularity, it shouldn’t be a problem for the company because of its strict no-cellphone policy.

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But Byerley notes that it wouldn’t surprise him if an employee tried to sneak in some game playing at work. He says there’s also a chance some people could get too involved with the app outside of work and have it interfere with their attendance. ”If people are up all night hunting Pokémon, they’re not going to be able to attend their shift,” he says.

Lisa Kay, president and lead consultant at Peak Performance Human Resources Corp., echoes that assessment and says “the only immediate thought that comes to mind is people being late for work or running out of work as soon as they can to go out and play Pokémon Go.”

There may also be employees who will show up for work but not complete their tasks due to distraction caused by the game, says Kay. She notes, however, that the game isn’t the only thing that can lead to distraction, citing other technology-related activities such as online banking or social media and texting.

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As such, Kay encourages employers to treat issues with playing Pokémon Go during work hours the same way they’d manage any performance problems: addressing the behaviour immediately and letting employees know it’s not acceptable.

At SSP Canada Food Services, staff caught using their cellphone are subject to immediate professional counselling, according to Byerley.

How can employers benefit from Pokémon GO?

While Pokémon GO has the potential to disrupt the workplace, it may also elicit positive and healthy behaviour among employees.

According to the same Forbes poll, 80 per cent of respondents said they exercised more by playing the game and about half reported that Pokémon GO had helped them strengthen relationships with colleagues, bosses and clients.

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The game has many physical, mental and social health benefits, says Linda Lewis-Daly, a workplace wellness consultant. Employers, she suggests, can take advantage of Pokémon GO by incorporating it into their wellness programs.

For instance, managers can use the game as the basis for team-building activities or competitions, says Lewis-Daly. They could divide people into teams, engage them in a scavenger hunt for Pokémon and award employees who accumulate the most creatures or points with rewards related to healthy living.

Even companies without budgets can encourage employees to participate by offering a trophy to the winning team, says Lewis-Daly. “It’s amazing how powerful the bragging rights of a trophy can be.”

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Pokémon GO is a great example of how gamification can make behavioural modification efforts successful, according to Ian McCarthy, a professor of technology and operations management of the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University.

What makes the game so successful in getting people moving is that it wasn’t designed to be a fitness app, says McCarthy. “If it was designed to be an exercise app, it would be boring. It’s designed to engage and be fun and exercise is just a byproduct.”

He notes employers should keep that strategy in mind when creating wellness programs. “If you focus primarily on making it engaging, wellness will follow.”