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Amazon Is Making Employees Treat Tedious Warehouse Work Like A Video Game

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There are many anecdotes online about working inside Amazon's warehouses; collectively, they paint a bleak portrait of what it takes to keep the company running — excruciating hours, grueling workloads, and tedious operations that offer little variety.

Amazon's solution? Turn all those elements into a video game.

Amazon Is Gamifying Warehouse Work

Amazon's new tactic to fight off the dullness of employees' workday lives involves installing screens next to workers' stations that feature simple games such as PicksInSpace, Mission Racer, and CastleCrafter. The idea is to convert their actual, physical labor into virtual in-game moves. The faster a worker picks items and puts them in a box, the faster their car will navigate through a virtual track in the accompanying game.

The underlying principle is to make work less tedious but at the same time push people to be more productive by pitting employees against one another.

Swag Bucks

The move, characterized by some as a real-life Black Mirror scenario, is receiving criticism. So far, they've been installed in five warehouses in the United States and the UK, as The Washington Post reports. The games, which are voluntary, employ a rewards system that lends workers who achieve high scores "swag bucks." This is an in-company currency that workers can only exchange for Amazon-branded products.

Gamification Of Work

Gamifying work isn't a common practice, and it's also not new. Some ride-hailing companies, in fact, impose certain targets on drivers as a way of encouraging them to log greater hours in a given period. Some fitness apps also implement daily movement goals to coax users into fulfilling certain achievements within a day.

There's no airtight research on this matter just yet, but experts say these sorts of incentives render powerful psychological outcomes. For one, they can make tedious tasks seem meaningful and engaging. They can also be leveraged to change behavior and push workers to work harder. But it begs the question how far such a method could go before skirting the threshold of annoyance, and, ironically, how far before the gamification itself becomes tedious.

"Gamification' is a big focus for us in making jobs more interesting," said Dave Clark, Amazon's senior VP of worldwide operations, in a tweet Tuesday. "We have a variety of games single and multi player. The objective is simple — take something that can be pretty boring and make it more interesting and hopefully fun."

The company denies that the games are intended to boost productivity or pit workers against each other. It insists that they're designed to make warehouse work more fun, engaging, and collaborative.

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