Improv skills lead to success

Gamification: Ethics, Disney, and Playbor

leave a comment »

It’s always seemed somewhat ironic that discussions of most systems, from gamification to genetic modification, always leave the issue of ethics until near the end. Of course, you can’t discuss the ethics of something until you have a clear idea of what it is you’re examining, so it might be a necessary evil.

In For the Win, Wharton business school professors Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter (and Werbach in his Gamification course on Coursera) examine the ethics of gamification. The childhood saying is that anything’s fun until someone loses an eye, but gamification can have a manipulative side. Werbach and Hunter refer to the practice of using gamification to amplify work effort as playbor, a terrific term that captures the essence of their critique.

One example Werbach mentions in both the book and the course is Disney’s use of a leaderboard to display performance statistics for workers in their laundry facilities. One of the basic tenets of business is that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, but there’s a real question as to when you cross the line from performance measurement to manipulation. When I had a summer job with a telemarketing firm back in the 1980s, did my target call, contact, and sale numbers amount to manipulation? How about sales quotas for bonuses? Or entering in at least a certain number of books per hour when I took a temp job helping a large independent bookstore digitize their inventory? In neither case was I compared directly to other employees (I was the only salesperson at a very small company), so it probably wasn’t an example of gamification, though I was aware of my performance in relation to my targets.

Ethics is always a tricky subject. In many cases, workplace treatment comes down to what can be negotiated between workers and management, either through union representatives or by workers voting with their feet. In a down economy, many workers are willing to accept conditions they wouldn’t consider in better times. There have been several articles on conditions in Amazon warehouses as well as a recent report on what might be an Amazon warehouse, that remind us how circumstances can give employers leverage over their employees.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: