Gamification and Internal Communication of Dubai’s Workforce

Abstract

Gamification is the use of games in non-game settings to change people’s behavior and increase their engagement. The proposed research aims to answer the question of whether gamification leads to improving the communication between Emirati nationals and expatriates in Dubai’s private sector and whether there are positive changes in teamwork, assessments, and feedback provision as a result. The question is important to discuss because the active use of gamification in different business areas, including internal communication, can potentially lead to improving the interaction of employees. The proposed methods include a quantitative survey questionnaire and a qualitative case study based on interviews and documentation review.

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Introduction

The improvement of internal communication between representatives of different cultures is a challenging task for managers (Linke & Zerfass, 2011). In Dubai, the percentage of expatriates working in the private sector is extremely high (Srimannarayana & Santosh, 2011). The development of strategies that allow Emiratis and expatriates to communicate and work as teams on projects is a priority for managers. As a result, managers analyze available methods and choose new effective approaches to engage employees in teamwork and promote cooperation. Gamification in this area is one of the newest and most promising strategies to motivate employees, keep them engaged, and create conditions for their interaction and effective collaboration. Gamification can be defined as the application of “the mechanisms of gaming to non-game activities to change people’s behavior” (Marston & Hall, 2015, p. 80). This approach is effectively used in the spheres of training, rewarding, sales, and marketing (Roth, Schneckenberg & Tsai, 2015). The use of games is aimed at increasing people’s engagement, motivation, and involvement.

From this perspective, referring to gamification as an effective working approach, it is also possible to expect positive results in the field of internal communication. In companies located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and in Dubai specifically, there are agencies that train managers to apply principles of gamification to all areas, including teamwork, communication, promotion, rewarding, training, and performance management (Thottathil, 2013). This research proposal discusses the key concepts used in the study with the focus on the development of the gamification concept, concentrates on the nature of the problem in private sector companies of Dubai, and explains the selected methodology.

Key Concepts

Internal communication is discussed in the academic literature as the process of sharing information and ideas in the company (Linke & Zerfass, 2011). In this research, the focus is on the internal communication between representatives of the diverse workforce: Emiratis and expatriates. Emiratis are citizens of the United Arab Emirates while expatriates are non-citizens who are employed as foreign professionals whose expertise is needed in specific areas (Lori, 2011). It is necessary to note that the density of expatriates reaches up to 90% of the workforce (Lori, 2011). As a result, the workforce in the UAE is very diverse, which means that employees have different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Rana (2013) states that in companies with a diverse workforce, communication plays a critical role, and it is necessary to improve collaboration. Linke and Zerfass (2011) argue that employees’ motivation can be facilitated through the improved internal communication of an organization.

Even though gamification is not discussed as a tool to improve internal communication directly, Roth et al. (2015) accentuate the advantages of gamification for the organizational culture and performance. Organizational culture can be defined as a system of “primarily artifacts, values, and assumptions” shared by the employees of an organization (Keyton, 2011, p. 21). The organizational performance can be referred to as the result of organizations’ operations as evaluated against the goals set (Alvesson, 2012). These aspects are important to speak about the effective exchange of knowledge in the organization. Knowledge exchange can be defined as sharing information within the organization using various strategies (Bratianu, 2015). Therefore, it is possible to expect an improvement of communication between diverse employees as a result of applying the gamification principle.

Problem Statement

The problem is in the fact that Internal Communication specialists in Dubai’s private sector recognize the advantages of gamification, but they hesitate to refer to it when it is necessary to improve internal communication between Emiratis and expatriates (Al-Khouri, 2014). Gamification can be useful to promote teamwork, conduct assessments, and provide feedbacks, but it is not applied to the field of internal communication actively.

Many companies focus on the development of external communication and customer engagement (Aaty & Koshy, 2015). Wellington (2014) notes that quite a few companies use games to improve internal communication, but those who do focus on the development of the organizational culture. This approach is also used in diverse working environments as the culture is regarded as the glue that helps people with different backgrounds to effectively complete their tasks and achieve organizational goals. Al-Khouri (2014) argues that UAE’s organizations pay certain attention to the improvement of internal communication, but it is still related to such terrains as knowledge management systems as well as training. Thus, the research questions to be answered in this study are the following ones:

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RQ1: Does gamification lead to improving the communication between Emirati nationals and expatriates in Dubai’s private sector?

RQ2: Is the use of gamification related to positive changes in the teamwork, assessments, and feedback provision in Dubai’s private sector?

This study aims to use two operational definitions for concepts of internal communication and gamification. In this study, internal communication is defined as a process of sharing information in the organization. Gamification means the use of game elements in the business context not related to the game (Roth et al., 2015). For instance, in a UAE based company, employees chose a car for a race. The race was based on the speed and quality of employees’ audited applications (Al-Khouri, 2014). The participants could see each other’s progress, which motivated them to improve their performance. The best cars are awarded certain prizes.

Theoretical Expectations

To evaluate the effectiveness of the study and its methodology, it is possible to apply the theory of Social Exchange. The theory states that individuals make decisions based on their analysis of costs and benefits (Bratianu, 2015). Gamification is seen as an efficient approach to encouraging employees to communicate more effectively and exchange knowledge, which is likely to result in improved performance. The variables of this research are internal communication and gamification. By theory, the use of games will improve internal communication and remove possible barriers that may exist in a diverse workforce. It is expected that employees will acknowledge the benefits of the improved internal communication that will be associated with their higher performance (and potentially will bring rewards or recognition). As for the costs, participation in games will require no additional skills and is likely to take quite a little time.

Another theoretical framework can help identify the benefits of gamification as related to internal communication. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can help predict the outcomes of this study. According to this theory, people’s motivations evolve as they move through several stages that include physiological needs, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (Richter, Raban & Rafaeli, 2014). Richter et al. (2014) state that the use of gamification leads to increased employees’ engagement and higher motivation. Such needs as belonging, esteem and self-actualization are met through the use of games. It can be expected that the internal communication will improve; as it will help the employees satisfy the needs mentioned above. Importantly, the theory provides the necessary prioritization of the needs, which can help identify particular game features that will affect the employees’ behavior. Thus, some games may focus on meeting one or several levels of needs.

Literature Review

The issues associated with communication within organizations have acquired significant attention in academics. Linke and Zerfass (2011) stress that internal communication positively correlates with employees’ motivation and performance. The researchers also stress that internal communication can be the most efficient platform for change within the organization. Rana (2013) unveils the benefits of internal communication in a diverse workforce. The researcher emphasizes that employees with different backgrounds often fail to develop proper communication channels due to various cultural barriers. Rana (2013) provides some efficient tools to overcome difficulties employees in diverse working environments may face.

Srimannarayana and Mohanty (2011) argue that internal communication is one of the issues UAE companies face. The diversity of the workforce is regarded as one of the major barriers to effective internal communication. The authors claim that cultural differences of employees often contribute to the occurrence of misunderstanding and an unhealthy working environment.

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Gamification acquired significant attention at the end of the 20th century and organizations started using this approach to improve employees’ motivation, performance, and customers’ loyalty (Aaty & Koshy, 2015). Marston and Hall (2015) provide several definitions of the term and state that the major purpose of this approach is to change people’s behavior. When it comes to organizations, the focus is on employees’ performance and their motivation. Richter et al. (2014) also provide insights into the way gamification affects employees’ motivation. Wellington (2014) links the use of gamification to the development of the organizational culture, which is especially important for companies with a diverse workforce.

However, little attention is paid to the correlation between internal communication within companies with a diverse workforce and the use of games. Al-Khouri (2014) briefly touches upon this issue, but the researcher focuses on knowledge transfer rather than internal communication. Researches often focus on issues either associated with internal communication or gamification. The gap in the field is evident as the use of games to facilitate internal communication is under-researched. It is important to provide a link between the two concepts and develop particular strategies that could be applied in the context of UAE organizations.

The theoretical framework of this research is associated with such theories as to the Social Exchange Theory and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Richter et al. (2014) claim that Maslow’s approach is commonly applied when it comes to gamification as the use of games is aimed at improving motivation as well as enhance performance. The way this theory can be applied is described in detail. Bratianu (2015) provides insights into the use of the theory of social exchange when addressing issues related to gamification. The researcher argues that this theory can be an effective framework as it focuses on people’s behavior that is based on their evaluation of costs and benefits. The effectiveness of the use of gamification can be assessed through the change of the employees’ behavior as they will analyze their benefits of participating and will be more engaged.

Research Priorities

The proposed study looks into the ways gamification affects the communication between Emiratis and expatriates in a private-sector company in Dubai. The research will unveil benefits as well as disadvantages, if any, of the use of gamification as seen by Dubai employees (both Emiratis and expatriates). It is important to understand employees’ opinions, as it will help identify the potential interest in the use of games in the workplace.

Methodology

The mixed-method approach is selected for the study. The quantitative information will be collected with the help of a designed survey, and the qualitative data will be collected as a case study.

Variables

The independent variable in the research is the use of gamification. The dependent variable is the internal communication measured concerning positive or negative changes. The purpose of the research is to study whether there is a relationship between gamification and any changes in internal communication. For answering the second research question, the focus is on measuring the presence of positive changes in internal communication and other aspects of the employees’ interaction.

Sampling

The study will focus on examining gamification in one company representing the private sector in Dubai where it is used not only in management but also in internal communication. The sample for the survey will include Emiratis and expatriates that will be selected with the help of a stratified random sampling (Chambliss & Schutt, 2013). It is expected that the sample will represent males and females from the 21-40-year-old age group. This sampling approach allows examining attitudes to the gamification of both Emiratis and expatriates. For the case study, the sample will include Internal Communication specialists working in Dubai’s private sector companies. The 25% return sample is targeted, which will ensure that the study will be free from sampling bias.

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Methods

The quantitative cross-sectional survey is chosen to assess the extent to which the use of gamification in the area of internal communication contributes to the productive interaction between Emirati nationals and expatriates. Advantages of the cross-sectional survey are in the possibilities to receive questions to answers quickly and at low costs. Disadvantages include the impossibility to check the influence of external factors on answers (Reagan, 2006). This limitation is addressed with the help of using the case study approach to gain qualitative data on the gamification strategy in the company. The advantage of the case study is the chance to explore the experience of the particular company and employees through interviews and the review of documents (Berger, 2014). The major weakness of the case study approach (difficulty with generalizability) is addressed by combining qualitative and quantitative methods.

Instruments

To conduct the survey, it is necessary to use the questionnaire structured with the help of the Likert scale indicating the extent to which employees discuss that the gamification strategy in the internal communication as a positive strategy. The use of the questionnaire based on the Likert scale is supported by the necessity of adapting the qualitative answers to measuring them with the help of quantitative tools (Chambliss & Schutt, 2013). To guarantee a high level of reliability, the questionnaire on gamification will be retrieved from the existing literature (Chambliss & Schutt, 2013). The samples to complete questionnaires will be solicited via email. The survey questionnaires will be placed on SurveyMonkey as it will be more comfortable for the participants to complete them at the most convenient time. For the case study, instruments include structured interview questions to communicate with Internal Communication specialists. The other data on the use of gamification will be collected referring to the corporate documentation.

Conclusion

The proposed study on the use of gamification to improve internal communication of Emirati nationals and expatriates in the private sector of Dubai will utilize a mixed-methods approach to explore the problem in detail and determine possible relationships. The focus is on using the questionnaire and a case study approach. Employees of one Dubai-based company will participate in the study, which can be regarded as a limitation. However, the research is aimed at the identification of existing trends rather than generalized data applicable on a nationwide scale. Therefore, the research is valid. The study also contributes to the theoretical framework as it checks the applicability of particular theories. This research is based on such theories as Social Exchange Theory and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In terms of these theories, the use of games will be beneficial for the development of effective internal communication channels.

The proposed study will allow concluding about the effectiveness of using gamification in internal communication and provide the results of the quantitative and qualitative assessments to support the conclusions. This research will contribute to the field of knowledge about internal communication and gamification. The study will also address the gap in knowledge concerning the correlation between the two concepts. The data obtained can be used to develop effective strategies aimed at introducing gamification as a way to improve internal communication in Emirati organizations. The study will also unveil some barriers to the use of games, at least, as seen by employees.

Bibliography

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Al-Khouri, A.M. (2014). Fusing knowledge management into the public sector: A review of the field and the case of the Emirates identity authority. Journal of Media & Mass Communication, IV(3), 1-89.

Alvesson, M. (2012). Understanding organizational culture. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Berger, A. A. (2014). Media and communication research methods: An introduction to qualitative and quantitative approaches. New York, NY: Sage Publications.

Bratianu, C. (2015). Organizational knowledge dynamics: Managing knowledge creation, acquisition, sharing, and transformation. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Chambliss, D. F., & Schutt, R. K. (2013). Making sense of the social world: Methods of investigation. New York, NY: Sage Publications.

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Marston, H.R., & Hall, A.K. (2015). Gamification: Applications for health promotion and health information technology engagement. In D. Novak (Ed.), Handbook of research on holistic perspectives in gamification for clinical practice (pp. 78-105). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Rana, R. (2013). Effective communication in a diverse workplace. International Journal of Enhanced Research in Management and Computer Applications, 2(2), 1-5.

Reagan, J. (2006). Applied research methods for mass communicators. New York, NY: Marquette Books.

Richter, G., Raban, D.R., & Rafaeli, S. (2014). Studying gamification: The effect of rewards and incentives on motivation. In T. Reiners & L. Wood (Eds.), Gamification in education and business (pp. 21-47). New York, NY: Springer.

Roth, S., Schneckenberg, D., & Tsai, C. W. (2015). The Ludic drive as innovation driver: Introduction to the gamification of innovation. Creativity and Innovation Management, 24(2), 300-306.

Srimannarayana, M., & Santosh, K. M. (2011). A study of human resource issues in Dubai. International Journal of Economics and Management Science, 1(1), 55-66.

Thottathil, M. (2013). Gamification set to increase corporate growth in 2014. The Arabian Gazette. Web.

Wellington, R. (2014). Context to culture for gamification HCI requirements: Familiarity and enculturement. In T. Reiners & L. Wood (Eds.), Gamification in education and business (pp. 151-165). New York, NY: Springer.

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