Evidence suggests that people want to be involved and seek out new opportunities, and yet the average front line employee is working at 1/3 their capability.


I’m in awe at the commitment teenagers put into their video games.  Some kids play their games more than 14 hours a day with barely a break for meals.  The other day I saw a gentleman walk straight into traffic on a busy street without looking up from his cell phone.  That is a commitment to a cause.  That gentleman owes his life to an attentive driver.


If Google, Facebook, and EA can completely captivate the public at large, surely organizations can engage their employees at work.  What are the characteristics of these devices/apps that make them so compelling?


Video Games have an Addictive Quality to Them

Let’s use video games as an example.  While the game environment changes constantly, the activities associated with the game stay the same.  The player operates a joystick with a number of controls and buttons on it. The games start relatively easy, requiring only the simplest of skills, but continually progresses in difficulty and complexity. 


The player gets a steady diet of feedback (virtual badges, awards, scores, visual and audio cues, levels, achievements).  If a player fails to complete a task, they merely have to try again.  They are rarely beaten up, mocked, given derision, or made to feel like a loser.


Most games work towards an overriding goal (even if the goal is meaningless) and continually gauges the player’s success against that goal. Each player is shown their progress and most of the time can monitor their status against their peer group.  Peer comparison is not used to belittle poor performers but rather used as inspiration and modelling. (How they do this is the topic for another blog.)  It is the pursuit of the next WIN that gives the games their addictive quality.  The game teases the player with how close they are to their next self administered shot of dopamine.


We can Replicate the Game Experience in the Workplace

What is amazing is that what the game does is not beyond what great leaders can do in their own organization. It doesn’t require special equipment, tools, programming or complex systems.  Incorporating even some of these strategies in the workplace delivers remarkable results in regards to employee engagement.


Let’s take a look at what can be done:


  • Provide a steady stream of feedback including badges, awards, scores, video and audio cues.  
  • Create a work environment with regular increasing difficulty and complexity.
  • Create a work environment where failure is not punished and yet success is celebrated.
  • Provide an overarching goal and show individual progress towards that goal.


This type of work environment does not come from applying soft skills. Companies need to follow a codified process supported by daily schedule controls. 


We have well-documented cases where an entire division literally doubled their output after their workplace employed just some of these strategies.  A recent client has come to the realization that they now have 30% too much staff for the current work that needs to be completed, shortly after complaining that they didn’t have enough staff to meet current demand. As a bonus, existing staff are engaged, attentive, and loyal.


The average North American worker works at about ⅓ their sustainable output.  Think of the effort teenagers put into their video games vs the effort they put into their chores.


Many people insist that the next generation is lazy and do not want to work. Maybe the problem can be solved, not by expecting them to change, but by changing how we lead them.


Great organizations create great people. We can learn from video game developers to figure out how to do it.