Driving Motivation among Employees with Gamification
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Driving Motivation among Employees with Gamification

Yu-kai Chou, CEO/Partner, The Octalysis Group
Yu-kai Chou, CEO/Partner, The Octalysis Group

Yu-kai Chou, CEO/Partner, The Octalysis Group

Workplace Gamification is the craft of creating environments and systems that inspire and motivate employees towards their work. It is an emphasis on “Human-Focused Design” over “Function-Focused Design.” Instead of assuming that employees already have motivation to perform desired behavior and simply optimizing for efficiency, gamification optimizes for human motivation and excitement so that employees actually want to engage with productive activities.

More often than not, employees show up to work every day just so they can earn a paycheck and to not lose their jobs. As a result, employees only work hard enough to earn their paychecks and to avoid losing their jobs.

In fact, Gallup’s 142-country study shows that only 13% of employees are categorized as “engaged” with their work. In comparison, 24% of the workforce is categorized as “Actively Disengaged,” which means they are so unhappy with their work that they minimize their productivity, spread negativity, and even sabotage productive efforts that require them to do more work to keep their jobs.

 I firmly believe that everyone has the capacity and the longing to become motivated and driven for something that is worth their cause 

That is something quite scary to think about. It means that, chances are, a quarter of your company is poisonous! How can any organism be competitive at anything if 24% of its body is composed of cancer cells?

Contrary to popular self-denial, it is actually not the employees’ fault they are disengaged. Companies like Zappos, LEGO, and Google (especially in the old days) are known to get their employees motivated, driven, and excited about their work on a daily basis. Zappos even paid employees to quit their jobs, and Google advertised that they pay 10% below market rate. But their employees remain excited and passionate about working there. I firmly believe that everyone has the capacity and the longing to become motivated and driven for something that is worth their cause. It is bad environmental and cultural design that turns good employees into toxic cells.

Why does that matter? Because research has shown that on average, the companies with disengaged and unmotivated employees only obtain 50% of profits and only 40% of revenue growth when compared to companies with engaged and motivated employees. If I told you that you could double your profits and improve your revenue growth by 250% without opening new markets and without introducing new breakthrough technologies but by simply making your workplace more engaging and motivating, would you do it?

Based on the Octalysis Framework of Gamification Design, everything we do is based on what we call the 8 Core Drives of motivation. If there are none of these Core Drives behind a Desired Action, there is no motivation, and no behavior happens.

The 8 Core Drives of motivation are:

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling
Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment
Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession
Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness
Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience
Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity
Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance

Among these, Core Drives 1, 2, and 3 (Meaning, Accomplishment, Empowerment) are considered White Hat Motivation, meaning that it makes people feel powerful, good, and in control, but there is no sense of urgency and people procrastinate. Core Drive 678 (Scarcity, Unpredictability, Avoidance) are considered Black Hat Motivation, where people feel urgent, obsessed, even addicted, but in the long run it may leave a bad taste in their mouths because they feel like they are not in control of their own behavior.

Furthermore, Core Drives 2, 4, and 6 (Accomplishment, Ownership, Scarcity) are considered Extrinsic Motivation Core Drives, meaning people are motivated by a reward, goal, or milestone, but they are not necessarily enjoying the task itself, so once they hit their goals or obtain their rewards, they stop doing the behavior. On the other hand, Core Drives 3, 5, and 7 (Empowerment, Social Influence, Unpredictability) are considered Intrinsic Motivation Core Drives, which means that we enjoy doing these tasks so much that we would even pay money just to experience it.

In the workplace, when most companies rely on Extrinsic and Black Hat Motivation to motivate employees, the key is to actually make the work environment enjoyable and install a long-term White Hat type of culture to drive long-term sustainable growth.

Workplace Gamification is critical for today’s economy and the future of creative innovation. The Gen-Ys entering the workforce (and they are over thirty now) are used to being in environments that provide them Epic Meaning, Relatedness, Autonomy, and more. This will only get worse as the even-younger generation enters the workforce, so it is wise for companies to start setting up the correct motivations systems as early as possible to avoid the devastation of having a surplus in labor but a shortage in talent.

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