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Woman Factory 1940 - (C) Wikipedia.orgGamification in the corporate world so far has looked mainly at employees - or specifically white collar workers - who use computers and digital devices to interact with business systems. Blue collar workers, like those who are at an assembly line in the automotive industry, seamstresses, room maids in the service industry, or garbage collectors, present a different challenge for gamification designers. They may not use digital tools such as computers for their work on a regular base, and they often perform monotonous and mind-numbing tasks that cannot be changed or varied much. To understand them and their motivations, as well as their specific needs, we need to look at how blue collar workers see themselves, what their values are, and how they deal with monotony.

Blue Collar vs. White Collar Workers

Blue-collar workers, while they operate the machines know that they do not have control over production tools and facilities. The owners decide what is produced, by whom, and where. What sounds like coming from Karl Marx directly, is in fact coming from him (and others). Before you go into a lengthy discourse about communism vs. capitalism, stay calm. Knowing this and understanding how blue-collar workers see themselves and what they value, gives us a clue of what a gamification-design for them needs to accomplish.

Because of the perception of their jobs, blue-collar workers respond to praise from a supervisor or manager different than white-collar workers. Especially if the praise seems not result from what blue-collar workers value most. What they value is meaning, dignity, and self-determination of their work. This does not mean that white-collar workers are not valuing those as well. But blue-collar workers tend to compare themselves to lower and higher status professions more often than white-collar workers do [1]. And they tend to mistrust white collar workers.

When those values are not satisfied, they lead to job alienation, disengagement, and in the worst case to outright sabotage. However, those values are coming close to what gamification is about. Let's take a closer look at those values.

 

Meaning

Every job has a meaning and is important. The ditch-digger, the whopper-flopper, the toilet-cleaner – all are doing necessary work. If nobody were to do them, we’d have a problem. Keeping this in mind makes even the lowest-regarded job bearable.

Dignity

Dignity comes with how an employee is treated at work. Abusive behavior of whatever form can drastically change productivity, health, and collaboration in a company.

Self-determination

Self-determination describes a player’s freedom within some boundaries to chose what, when, and how a task is done. Having a sense of control and not feeling like a cogwheel in a large machine brings satisfaction.

Example: San Francisco garbage collectors

A surprising result from a study on San Franciscan garbage collectors showed that the workers rated themselves high on happiness. This is astonishing given how the public may regard this type of job as low status. But there are reasons for the high rating: first, the work is meaningful. Without garbage collection the city would fall into chaos pretty quickly, as we have learned from cities where they went on prolonged strikes. Second, the workers of the San Franciscan garbage collection company are also owners of the company. They have a say in who’s managing them and how their colleagues treat them. And third, the workers can decide on how much time they take for a route and also periodically switch routes, which brings them to new neighborhoods [2].

Example: Work songs

What may sound at first glance anachronistic, breaking the monotony of routine labor with singing along is quite effective. The British and Australian researchers Marek Korczynski, Michael Pickering, and Emma Robertson have assembled an impressive history of work songs in Britain over centuries [3]. Singing together at work fulfills a number of human needs, including belonging, dignity, learning, feeling human, and engagement. The researcher observed that singing can also serve as a valve to let of steam and have those quiet co-workers participate as well.

Here, we found further support for our argument of the immanent intermingling of play and work, fancy and function, within singing at work, for we showed the process of singing at work itself to be creatively political in the way in which it mixed work and play, with the sounds of work frequently making up par of the music of singing at work.

Latter is also demonstrated in dances and songs in Austria, where the men clapping during the dance mimic the rhythms of flails separating the wheat from the chaff. Besides fulfilling the above mentioned needs, productivity gains can be gained as well, as mentioned in other examples from Austria [4].

Breaking Monotony

The monotony of tasks is one of the biggest challenges among factory workers. Repeating the same steps again and again without change or influence on the sequence or pace of tasks can have numerous consequences. It demotivates and disengages workers, it can numb them and make them more vulnerable for workplace accidents, lower the product quality, lead to high and costly employee turnovers, and even to workers stealing and intentionally breaking machines .
But workers do find ways of avoiding alienation with their work [5].

One of the older women on the floor had a routine she followed religiously. Every day at morning coffee break she went to the corner store and bought a newspaper. She brought it to her table and then went to the bathroom for a paper towel that she spread on her table. She then proceeded to eat half of her sandwich, no more, no less, every working day. There were numerous other examples of women “setting up“ their meager possessions – radios, cigarettes, and coffee cup – in similar fashion [6].

Building relationships, engaging in acts of camaraderie, and adding routines to break up the day is a common way of dealing with work monotony. The socialist theoretician Henri de Man spoke of this as “clinging to the remnants of joy in work.“ Sociologist Donald Roy wrote about a first-hand experience [7] when he joined a garment factory in New York in the 1950s.

His three co-workers interrupted the day with what Roy called “times.“ There was a “Peach time,“ a “Banana time,“ a “Window time,“ “lunch time,“ “pickup time,“ “fish time,“ and “coke time.“ Each of these times followed a predictable routine with the ever-same outcome, but was enjoyable anyways. Banana time for example was a routine each morning when a banana would be stolen by the most senior worker from another workers lunch box. The worker who never got to eat the banana would still bring a new banana every day.

Roy mentions the havoc that he caused when he intentionally destroyed the routines for all and suddenly the very same work became unbearable.

Conclusion

These values and examples give us first clues of how we need to treat and regard blue collar workers from a gamificationd esign perspective. The tools that we have available differ from white collar workers. The way we give feedback and reward may require significantly different approaches than what we are used to apply. And we need to be humble to understand factory and blue collar workers.

References

[1] Kristen Lucas, Blue-Collar Discourse of Workplace Dignity: Using Outgroup Comparisons to Construct Positive Identities, University of Nebraska, 2011
[2] Stewart E. Perry, San Francisco Scavengers, pp. 110-117. Berkeley, CA, University of California, 1978
[3] Marek Korczynski, Michael Pickering, Emma Robertson, Rhythms of Labour: Music at Work in Britain, Cambridge University Press, 2013
[4] Ilka Peter, Gaßlbrauch und Gaßlspruch in Österreich, 2nd edition, Verlag Alfred Winter, Salzburg, 1981, p.51
[5] Randy Hodson, Teresa A. Sullivan, The Social Organization of Work, 5th Edition, Wadsworth, 2012
[6] Tom Juravich, Chaos on the Shop Floor: A Worker’s View of Quality, Productivity, and Management. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985
[7] Donald F. Roy, “Banana Time“ Job Satisfaction and Informal Interaction, Human organization 18, 1959