March 28, 2014

With Gamification, Increasing Productivity Can Be Fun

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Gamification should be something done with employees, not to them,” says Chuck Coonradt, author of The Game of Work. On this episode of the TechnologyAdvice podcast, we interview Chuck Coonradt about ways to increase recreation in the workplace to improve productivity. You can also see that he goes way back on our history of gamification infographic. We also reference this in our Gamification starter guide.

While working at a manufactured-housing company, Chuck Coonradt stood next to his manager, a higher-up in the company. His superior delivered what Coonradt refers to as a “kids today” lecture. In front of them were four 20-somethings, working at a pace that he described as “slow,” “arthritic,” and “sluggish.” However, the moment the lunch bell rang, the four men dropped everything as if, in Coonradt’s words, “they were electrified,” and ran to the nearby basketball court for a game.

He was impressed with the energy and tenacity they played with, in comparison to their “arthritic” working pace. It was in this moment that Coonradt came to a realization that would make him a leading authority on productivity improvement.

He wanted to know why people were willing to pay for the privilege of worker harder (in basketball), than they were willing to work to get paid. His answer – that realization – was recreation.

For the 40 years following that realization, Coonradt has worked to incorporate the core elements of recreation into the workplace. He calls his system The Game of Work. By incorporating these elements successfully, Coonradt says that employers can improve their retention and productivity rates, while increasing tenure and their number of experienced employees.

While Coonradt has been preaching the Game of Work for nearly four decades now, gamification of the work environment has only recently become a trendy topic. Though the phrases are similar, Coonradt is adamant about the difference between “gamification in the year 2014,” and his system.

The Game of Work is about something you do with employees, whereas gamification – if improperly implemented – is something you do to them. He points to the leaderboard system, a popular use of modern gamification, as one of its primary failures. The idea of a leaderboard is simple. By ranking employees’ performance against each other, you encourage everyone to work their hardest to move to the top, which increases output. Coonradt says this is simply not true.

Instead, you disengage 80 percent of your workforce.

The top 20 percent will continue to fight among themselves, while the majority of your people become apathetic and disenfranchised.

The goal should not be to pit workers against each other, but instead to have each employee improve their individual performance. This is the object of his system.

Every employee, he says, comes to work asking one fundamental question: How do I win here, today? Phrased another way: how do I succeed? More than money, they want an emotional payout for the investment of their time. When leadership doesn’t provide a way for employees to win – an opportunity for that payout – the default becomes, “I can’t win.” This leads employees to quit emotionally.

They either quit and leave or, worse, they quit and stay.

Though he is clear about his system and the current use of the term “gamification,” Coonradt says there is something to be learned from the modern understanding of the word. The term gamification is born from videogames. With video games, the basis for positive feedback is clear. You read manuals, reviews, or walkthroughs and discover how to achieve points or reach objectives. There’s no such system in the workplace.

It’s at this point that Coonradt delivers his self-described “quotable” piece of the interview. “Denial or withholding of feedback is the most severe form of psychological punishment we inflict on one another.” He cites solitary confinement, isolation, and the “silent treatment” as examples. Unfortunately, such withholding is standard operating procedure in the business world, where phrases like “no news is good news,” “what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” are all too common.

After nearly forty years, some might ask why Coonradt hasn’t changed his message or gotten new material? Because, he says, we still haven’t fixed what’s broken.

Key Takeaways:

  • Incorporating elements of recreation can improve productivity and retention
  • Gamification should be something done with employees, not to them
  • Employees want more than just money for their time, they want an emotional payout
  • Frequent, if not immediate, feedback is more important than anything else

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