60% of UK workers aren’t happy in their jobs – which is a problem, since on average we spend about 30% of our lives working. It shouldn’t be surprising that carrying out repetitive routine tasks in an often stressful environment isn’t a recipe for wellbeing. It’s true that those who have been especially successful – high net worth individuals like Elon Musk or Bill Gates – can pursue whatever interests them. But, as our founder Tej Kohli would say, it’s not enough for only a handful of people at the top to have a satisfying working life – it should be possible for everyone.
The world is not lacking for ostensible solutions to the crisis in workplace satisfaction. Much ink has already been spilled by management gurus and specialist consultants, with the accompanying team-building and wellness programmes, in the effort to get employees to enjoy what they do. It doesn’t seem to have worked – people are getting less, not more, satisfied with their jobs. So it’s fair to approach the latest silver bullet with a healthy heaping of scepticism – we’ve all heard similar claims before, and on the whole they’ve been disappointing.
‘Gamification’, though, does seem intriguing, and deserves more attention than it’s getting. Put simply, it’s the strategy of adding the features of games – a sense of achievement, clear progress, visually-pleasing displays – to tasks that are otherwise fairly onerous. So far it’s primarily found its home in the world of marketing. A gamified app might be used to collect survey data – a clear progress bar is displayed, and users are given ‘rewards’, whether real or virtual, the more information they supply. Similar apps have even been used by political campaigns, including during the EU referendum campaign, to encourage user engagement and shareability.
But the principles of gamification are already being applied to other areas, with work top of the list for receiving the treatment. In just the same way as completing a survey is usually tedious, not the sort of thing you’d do of your own free will, many of the tasks employees must do are necessary but dull. That seems to leave it the perfect opportunity for gamification. It’s plausible that such measures will improve employee happiness. And not only that, it may have a real impact on productivity, improving employees’ abilities to work towards goals, plan ahead, and go the extra mile in getting a job done. It makes sense that, the happier we are, the more we want to work – and so the more work gets done.
On the other hand, there is something worrying about the process of gamification. Will we end up with our working and personal lives becoming inseparable? It might seem good for employee happiness, but it could pose problems for work/life balance – indeed, it could dissolve the very distinction between work and the rest of our lives. It certainly has potential – and we should all welcome anything that can make work more enjoyable, or that can convey a sense of achievement to employees. But we should also be careful that gamification isn’t just a way to sneak work into our personal lives.