How to Encourage Addiction in the Workplace?
Do you remember the phenomenon of Pokémon Go which was so addictive that players were injured when they ignored their actual physical surroundings in lieu of viewing those surroundings through a screen? Have you known someone who can’t make it through dinner without checking on their social media results (did I get likes?) or playing a quick round of the game du jour on their phone? What is going on?!? The answer lies in the underlying motivational factors at work in our brains. And some employers now use this knowledge of addictive behavior to enhance employee performance.
Let me first explain the basic science. There is a physiological process that explains why people become addicted to games and other sources of rewards. Two neurotransmitters are important to the explanation: dopamine and serotonin.
Most types of rewards trigger a release of dopamine in the brain. Increased dopamine levels make a person feel good, sometimes causing that person to become addicted to whatever caused the rush of dopamine. When users are rewarded with badges or levels for playing game or are rewarded with likes on their posts, this triggers a rush of dopamine, leading the user to become addicted to whatever caused the dopamine rush.
Furthermore, memories of past success can trigger a release of serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for controlling a person’s overall mood. When a person has higher levels of serotonin, that person is generally happier than someone with low levels of serotonin. Being able to look back over past rewards (such as badges) in a game or look back at posts that garnered many likes can cause an increase in serotonin levels, eventually causing the user to experience happiness when they see game, the social media app, or even the phone.
So between the surge in dopamine and the surge in serotonin, users find themselves wanting to repeat the experience that feels good. It’s addictive.
These techniques used in the gaming industry are now being applied in the workplace through the concept of gamification – hence the name. Typically, the organization creates an individual performance system in which individuals or teams are responsible for achieving certain things such as achieving performance targets or completing tasks / activities/ projects within a month or quarter. These goals are entered into a system in which individuals / teams can regularly report their progress. As progress is made, badges or other items are awarded. Sometimes team scores are compared to each other and rewards (and bragging rights) are doled out by the system, creating comradery and friendly competition in the workplace. Imagine that!
We’ve tested some of these principles with some of our teams here at Corporater and have been very pleasantly surprised to see how well it works for motivating employees to complete tasks or achieve targets – work feels rewarding. Of course, there are other principles at work as well – but we’ll save that for another blog post.
If you are unsure how to get started, I’d suggest looking into OKR (Objectives Key Results) which is used by Google and other successful organizations to incorporate individual and team goals that are dynamic, linked to strategy and can be gamified.