HQ Trivia: The Latest in Potential Workplace Distractions

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie January 16, 2018
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​As if we didn't have enough workplace distractions. There's the Super Bowl. There's March Madness. Last summer, there was the solar eclipse. And now we have HQ Trivia.

That's the app-based trivia game—complete with cash prizes—that up to 1 million people play each day, according to news reports.

But unlike football or basketball tournaments, this isn't a seasonal event. It is played every day—twice a day—including during many people's working hours.

To play, participants pull out their mobile devices at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern time to answer 12 questions for cash prizes, which can be as much as $20,000 per pot.

So is this yet another distraction that might lure workers from their duties and force companies to enact rules to curb playing the game?

"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."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance]

John Snyder, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in New York City, plays the game with his sons at 9 p.m. each night. He noted that the game typically lasts five to 10 minutes. "In some ways, this can be treated like a short coffee break," he said. "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, takes a firmer stance.

"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.

"There is a workplace camaraderie that comes into play, so to speak, during Super Bowl and March Madness," she added. "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."

HQ Trivia Will 'Take Over Your Life'

According to one writer, HQ Trivia is "the mobile trivia game that will take over your damn life."

"Twice a day, every day, without fail, my phone lights up with the same notification: 'HQ is live! Are you ready to play?' " Brinton Parker wrote on Popsugar.com. "I hear the same chime all around my office, and many of my friends promptly pull out their phones with rapt attention, ready for the chance to finally win HQ Trivia."

To get some sense for the mania surrounding the game, Parker suggests readers view the viral video of a woman reacting after she wins $11 in the game. The chase for cash and the inherent fun make the game "addictive," he writes.

The game presents 12 multiple-choice questions that must be answered within seconds. With each round, those who choose incorrectly are disqualified. Players who answer all 12 questions correctly split the cash prize—which sometimes means each winner gets only a few cents, while other times it can amount to thousands of dollars.

Most companies have a code of conduct when it comes to tending to personal matters on company time, so that code should be your guide when determining how strict you will be about allowing employees to participate in HQ Trivia, Himelstein said.

"You need to set the tone you want: Is it strictly not allowed, or can it fly under the radar with some monitoring like 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."

Many companies also have policies that limit use of personal devices at work, especially in customer-facing roles.

"Most employees already understand the basic policy that things like games should be reserved for downtime, the water cooler or the break room," Himelstein said. "If you find that an employee's use of their device during work is hindering their job performance, it is more productive to tackle it as an engagement issue rather than a policy issue."

One concern, Snyder said, is that if the HQ Trivia app is downloaded on a work device, this may violate an employer's data security protocols.

"Appropriate safeguards should be considered by employers—such as blocking software—to avoid the unauthorized download of apps and software that can interfere with the security and efficient running of the company's IT systems and devices," he said.

Is It Gambling?

Himelstein also pointed out that, technically, HQ Trivia could be considered gambling, which is illegal in many states. That said, law enforcement officials rarely crack down on office betting on events such as the Super Bowl.

"If we're talking realistically, it is gambling because it is a game of skill or chance that you play for money," he said. "However, this specific game is trivia and more a game of skill than chance, and the way the game is played is relatively unobtrusive. If you believe someone has a gambling problem or addiction, seek intervention and treatment immediately."

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