Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pay to Play; Work for Free

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way to get people to do the hardest work for free?  If you're a manager, you already know how difficult it is to get talented, motivated people to come work for you (or your company).  Finding the right mixture of pay and benefits already plays a large part in getting people to do work.  In the companies where I've worked, I cannot remember or find a single example where people did their jobs for free.  (Unpaid internships don't count)

So, is it possible to get people to do really tough jobs not only for free, but to also pay you for the privilege of being able to donate their own blood, sweat, and tears?  The answer is "yes", you can do this through several different approaches.

The first method that I know of is highly impractical.  In fact, I wouldn't recommend it unless you are part of an evil machine "hive collective".  I'm referring to the concept behind the highly popular Matrix movies that starred Keanu Reeves during the last decade.  In the movies (spoiler alert), all of humankind had been put into stasis cubes that kept them alive but comatose.  The evil machines created a fake world where each person had a role to play.  However, while their minds were inside of the "Matrix", in the real world the machines were using the bio-electrical energy of the peoples' physical bodies to power their civilization.

Moving from fantasy to reality, an actual industry has slowly trained people to pay real-world money in order to go to work for free.  Can you guess which industry that might be?  If you own an XBox or Playstation, you already know that it is the video game industry.  This year (2014), one of the most anticipated games in history came out for sale in September.  Called "Destiny", it is built around the concept of an ever evolving world where each person is a "Guardian".  The role of each Guardian is to constantly patrol the worlds of the solar system striving ever to push back the darkness (yes, that is a near quote).

What is interesting about Destiny is that each person who plays must perform what most people would refer to as "work" in order to advance.  That is, the players have to report online at specific times, carry out mandated tasks, interact with friend (aka "co-workers"), and meet deadlines.  Much of this activity is monotonous at times, similar to  being in an actual office environment.  People grumble about it and refer to the repetitive work that they must do as "the grind".  Yet, the average amount of time spent in the game by each player, every day, is three hours!  On the weekends, that number goes up to four hours per day.  Why would people pay for a product that essentially makes them work for free?

Then answer is, "Because it's fun."

There you have it.  If you can make a job fun, issues such as work conditions, pay, location, and many others stop being so important.  Many of us have heard that one of the biggest reasons employees leave their jobs, other than poor managers, is that they are seeking meaningful work.  Might that also mean work that is fun?

Bungie, the company that makes the game Destiny, is not the first company to discover this little bit of insight.  I cannot trace the origins of the "fun-i-fication" of work, but there is a great site called "The Fun Factory" that describes and illustrates how the concept can be put into practice.  They have a number of examples of how making things like climbing stairs actually be more appealing than using adjacent escalators.  There are also examples from companies like Volkswagen about how they are introducing the concept of "fun" into their businesses in order to get more employee engagement.

Now that you've read this post, here is the takeaway:  A great way to engage the hearts and minds of your employees and co-workers is to find ways to make their roles more entertaining and thus more engaging.  By introducing a little "fun" into the daily activities of your work group, you will be guaranteed to get much more willing productivity from your people.  The old adage is true - "Time flies when you are having fun."

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