Philosophers talk about goods to have and goods to do. In terms of the good life, what you do has more impact than what you have. Economic progress in the last century has been about more and more economic goods to have, from cars and shoes to toys and electronics. Economic progress in this century will increasingly be about economic goods to do. This challenge won't be about drawing out our inner consumer but instead will be about tapping into our inner creator and problem-solver. This will mean taking the design of work as seriously in this century as we took the design of products in the last.
Gallup reports that only 13% of employees across 142 countries they've surveyed are engaged in their work. Their definition of engaged is that employees are "emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their organizations every day." Worse, their 2009-2010 survey of global workers found that twice as many employees are "actively disengaged workers — i.e., those who are negative and potentially hostile to their organizations — continue to outnumber engaged employees at a rate of nearly 2-1."
Levels of disengagement cost companies and their communities twice. It costs because disengaged employees are less likely to take ownership of their results and thus less likely to problem-solve, create, or simply roll up their sleeves and work to get great results. That is, it costs businesses because they're creating less value, making it harder to reward shareholders, employees and / or customers. It also costs communities because when we are disengaged in our work we are less alive.
In her book Reality is Broken: How Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal argues that it isn't a problem that games (typically video games) are able to suck us in and can be so addictive. (Recently, Flappy Bird creator Dong Nguyen pulled the game because he said it was too addictive.) Rather, she says, the problem is that work and learning are NOT similarly designed.
If your company has more than 20 people whose job it is to design and redesign your products, you ought to think about having at least one engaged in the design and redesign of work - from work environments to the definition of tasks and finding the balance between process and creativity. There has been so much emphasis placed on six sigma, on higher quality products. It is time to put emphasis on measures of employee engagement.
Corporations could do worse than hire game designers to come in and analyze the work employees do and begin to redesign their tasks to engage in ways that more closely resemble games. The bad news is that work is so far from games that this will be hard to do. The good news is that companies have been so negligent in even thinking about work this way that early progress could be as easy as simply trying. It will take some time before companies have done such a great job at gaming work that there is little in the way of returns left.
For more on engagement in work, here are some of my earlier posts on the topic:
Tailoring Self to Fit a Job
Flow as the Compass for Social Invention
Flow & the Pursuit of Happiness
Taylor Pearson recently wrote this:
Redefining Work in the 4th Economy
Gallup offers their report on employee engagement here:
State of the Global Workplace