HQ Trivia is the latest viral sensation taking over phones and users attention. The app is a mobile trivia game that combines Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Jeopardy! and at 3 PM and 9 PM users tune in and try to answer multiple choice questions correctly. The questions range in difficulty and are on a variety of topics, but users only get 10 seconds to answer. If a user gets one wrong, they are knocked out of that game and have to wait until the next game begins. What makes this app extremely appealing is that users can win real money – possibly $10,000 or more. The app has had tremendous success, garnering over a million people participating each session.
Is this app bad for employers? A January New York Times article by Amanda Hess titled How HQ Trivia Became the Best Worst Thing on the Internet starts with the following: “On New Year’s Eve, I went to dinner in Los Angeles to close out 2017 with friends. Naturally, the meal ended with me white-knuckling my phone, my eyeballs glued open and my mind laser-focused on spitting up ephemeral internet trivia like who is the most followed celebrity on Instagram (Selena Gomez) or which book topped Goodreads’ best-of list in 2017 (“Little Fires Everywhere”). That’s because, just as the check arrived, HQ beckoned: The live trivia app had announced a surprise game, and if I wanted a shot at answering 12 multiple-choice questions and vying for a share of the $18,000 pot, I had to tap in instantly. For the next 15 minutes, I was not exactly human. I was a slave to HQ.”
Imagine this being played out in offices everywhere. Employees becoming slaves to their phones for a period of time, pulling their attention away from their work and disrupting the flow of the workday. And this is to say nothing about the time taken out of the day where employees discuss the game either before or after a game session – or worse, discussing the game before and after the game session.
So what can be done to curb the use of the app during work hours? Professionals have varying opinions.
“Like anything else, if it is causing harm or lowering productivity, nip it in the bud,” said Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications for HALO Recognition, an employee rewards and incentives company based in Long Island City, N.Y. “However, if it engages your employees well and it’s something they really like, embrace it and set boundaries. It’s important to give it as fair of a shake as March Madness and Super Bowl pools, two things that, over time, have found a natural fit and flow in the modern workplace.”
John Snyder, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in New York City, notes that, “in some ways, [playing HQ Trivia] can be treated like a short coffee break. As long as the work gets done, playing the trivia game can build camaraderie, strengthen office morale and should not be too distracting at work.”
Helene Wasserman, an attorney with Littler in Los Angeles, differentiates HQ Trivia from March Madness or the Super Bowl. “Work time is for work, and employers should be clear that employees are expected to work during work hours,” she said. “They can play during lunch and breaks, but not on working time. That said, if employers don’t have policies regarding checking Facebook, for example, during work hours, it may be difficult to enforce this.” Wasserman continued: “There is a workplace camaraderie that comes into play, so to speak, during Super Bowl and March Madness. Sometimes, companies bring in pizza and encourage the participation. If there are a significant number of employees participating, maybe employers want to use the camaraderie so everyone playing in the [HQ Trivia] game can sit together and play. Short of that, this is an individual use of time, and employers should remind employees that this is something to be done on personal time, not work time.”
Employers should have an honest conversation with employees to see how popular the app is among employees. A company should then decide, in light of its corporate policies which should provide guidance on tending to personal matters on company time along with policies on use of personal devices at work, how to address the use of apps like HQ Trivia.
“You need to set the tone you want: is it strictly not allowed, or can it fly under the radar with some monitoring like the Super Bowl and playoff pools? It’s only for you to say because only you can know your people and what will work with your culture. Bottom line is, if you believe any game or betting pool significantly distracts from the work being done, communicate that concern and work it out,” advised Himelstein.
This will likely be achieved on a case by case basis as every company operates differently. But companies are encouraged to tailor how they will address this problem as more apps like HQ Trivia might start popping up. Despite a brief period on March 19, 2018 when the app disappeared from the App Store due to the person behind the app’s iTunes account forgot to update an expired credit card, the app seems that it is here to stay as it remains widely used.