Some people can sit in front of a computer screen, get lost in their work, and produce results. Others just can't wait to start work again after their lunch breaks. There are even those who need to be reminded to call it a day. Sounds like every employer's dream, right?
Scenarios like these get hyped when companies start thinking about gamification. Besides the possible health consequences the above workers would face (both mental and physical), is it realistic to turn employees into 'gamers'?
Currently, as the 'gamer' generation increasingly enters the workforce, they bring skills that can benefit the modern workplace. They grew up with computers, can spend long periods of time in front of a screen to complete complex tasks, and they're used to late-night LAN parties, cooperating with each other, and are motivated to beat the high score.
In fact, many offices today don't look too different from young people's 'gaming worlds.' There are ways to display performance (numbers), speed, and quality of work with points. According to providers of such solutions, this leads not only to motivation (and thus an increase in performance) but it's also fun. Work becomes a (computer) game. And the best part? You can trade in points for material reward.
The effect of 'newness'
This actually seems to work - in the beginning, at least. Just as we tried breaking one Tetris record after another, it's likely that employees will try to make it to the top of the rankings. But what if the newness wears off? What if people don't see much of a point, since the top scores can no longer be beaten?
A new game then needs to be created. This might be good for creators of such systems, but it gets expensive for users. Sometimes the best games turn out to be boring. But even if new 'games' were developed regularly, would they inspire every employee?
Not the competitive type
Some people are naturally competitive. They like testing their limits and playing to win. However, there are also those who just aren't into competing. This can create the opposite of what's intended, a drop in performance. We can't assume that everyone is driven to create work in order to reach the top score. The effects of gamification fade when we realize that some will win and others will lose.
Should we then ignore this idea? Not necessarily. Most people know from experience that improvement, progress, and development are also very motivating. If we can establish that what we've just finished is successful, better than before, or excellent in some way, we feel great.
After all, why do athletes dedicate years of their lives to practice? What reason might a golfer have to perfect their swing? Why would they carry scorecards, write lists, and anticipate a hole-in-one after improving by a half point?
As with computer games, not everything is about points and ranking. We can also get direct feedback from success or failure in our work. We can tell right away whether or not a task was successful. In the same manner, we can quickly adjust and improve our behavior based on previous feedback.
In an administrative setting, 'feedback' comes in the form of a paycheck (although often independent of quality and quantity of work). Then there's the yearly review, which doesn't always reflect the individual in the result. You might receive praise from a supervisor, for example if a customer gives positive feedback. Direct feedback for most tasks, especially from customers, is quite rare.
How can you encourage an even level of enthusiasm among employees? As soon and as detailed as you can, think about providing feedback for their work. This can even be numbers-based. Instead of throwing around points, try using 'natural results' from their performance. Just as a salesman might see empty boxes as the sign of a successful morning, a tiler knows the number of tiles laid, and a florist the number of bouquets sold.
Is this an idealistic view of economics? Perhaps. But instead of creating artificial reward systems, how about effectively representing real work results? Whether you achieve this through modern media or simple handwritten graphs on a wall depends on the nature of your work. The important part is that the results can be seen. It's definitely not a new approach, but it is more crucial than ever.