scorecardGamifying the grind: Turning work into play can boost productivity and motivation in monotonous tasks, study finds
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Gamifying the grind: Turning work into play can boost productivity and motivation in monotonous tasks, study finds

Gamifying the grind: Turning work into play can boost productivity and motivation in monotonous tasks, study finds
LifeScience2 min read
Growing up in Indian households and education systems, we've all been inundated with advice like “take work seriously and don't treat it like a game” and “work and play don't mix”. While these nuggets of wisdom may have come from a well-intentioned place, a recent study suggests they might not always lead to optimal work output.

Researchers from West Virginia University, delving into workers' well-being and productivity, have found that individuals tend to perform better at monotonous tasks when those tasks are transformed into games.

The team's discoveries imply that workers in factory assembly lines could see improvements in productivity, engagement and motivation when mundane activities — like fitting parts together — are incentivised through competition or rewards. However, this may come at the cost of heightened stress levels.
The gamification gimmick
Believe it or not, “gamification” has already permeated various aspects of our daily routines, from fitness-tracking challenges to shopping rewards programs. To evaluate its efficacy in the workplace, researchers devised an experiment using a toy Lego set to simulate a typical production assembly task. Participants were randomly assigned to either a "gamified" group or a "control" group, with both groups tasked with assembling the same Lego model.

While both groups were required to assemble the model multiple times, those in the gamified group received productivity incentives through game-like features such as progress bars and badges. The result? The gamified group exhibited significantly higher productivity by the end of the study.

Interestingly, participants' last attempt to assemble the Lego kit saw a notable surge in completion times, attributed to their pursuit of obtaining a new personal record badge. This underscores the motivational aspect of gamified tasks, where individuals strive to achieve their best performance.

But on the flip side, gamification also led to increased stress levels. Despite the researchers’ expectations of reduced perceived workloads, participants reported heightened frustration, effort, time pressure, and mental and physical demands. Surprisingly, participants in the gamified group outperformed their counterparts, but perceived their performance to be worse.

Participants who identified as "self-competitive," driven to surpass their own records, experienced heightened time pressure, while those with lower patience levels reported increased frustration and physical strain during the tasks.

However, the researchers argue that this may not be as bad as it sounds, as the ‘psychological load’ of gamification encourages workers to be more mentally active and engaged in the task at hand. As long as stress levels aren't extreme or unnecessary, that extra pressure is likely to drive better performance.

Therefore, designers of gamification applications must carefully consider users' tolerance levels to avoid overwhelming them. In essence, successful gamification hinges on striking the right balance and finding the sweet spot between boredom and stress.

The study was published in the journal Robotics and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing and can be accessed here.

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