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The power of positivity in workplace gamification

When deciding which game mechanics and dynamics you want to use in your gamification solution, there are many to choose from. Some are positive incentives, like extra points or options, and some are negative incentives, like a countdown timer or a reduction in health/life points. Finding the right balance for your challenge is important and can make all the difference in your player's experience.

When it comes to workplaces, however, this balance is even more important to get right. Especially if the business need includes a cultural and team building aspect. In our experience, it is better to have positive mechanics rather than negative ones. Employees are already faced with negative incentives and negative consequences in their working life, such as an upset client, an angry boss, or penalties for coming to work late. 

The gamification system should not be an added negative factor. By definition, it is about adding more fun and engagement into the workplace. This is why it's better to have positive mechanics, and add negative mechanics with careful consideration. 

And this is backed up by science.

Positive psychology 

Positive Psychology was founded by Martin Seligman, and is a recent movement that explores how individuals and society can achieve well-being. It focuses on well-being and how to thrive mentally, emotionally and socially.

Seligman posits five elements of well-being, known as PERMA.

Positive emotion — which is assessed subjectively

Engagement — only be measured through subjective means, through the presence of a flow state

Relationships — the feeling of connection with others

Meaning — belonging to and serving something bigger than one's self

Achievement — accomplishment that is pursued even when it brings no positive emotion, no meaning, and nothing in the way of positive relationships.

Each of these elements of well-being must achieve three things:

It contributes to well-being

Many people pursue it for its own sake, not merely to get any of the other elements

It is defined and measured independently of the other elements

The Gottman Positivity Ratio

Similarly, the Gottman Positivity Ratio has discovered that a ratio of positive and negative interactions is needed in order to build a relationship.  This work is based on research with thousands of couples and has been used to predict divorce with close to 100% accuracy.

The ratio is 5:1, meaning that as long as there are 5 times as many positive interactions as there are negative ones, the relationship is stable and positive.  While some negativity is healthy and necessary, positivity builds relationships and teams.

While Gottman's research relates to couples, this ratio can be applied to any relationship, whether it be a friend, a colleague, a client, or a member of your team. We believe that this ratio applies to the interaction between a company and its employees. Employees are constantly getting messages from the interactions within their company - whether it be a boss, another team members, or an IT system.

The positivity or negativity of these interactions make up the ratio. For example, if you come into work, get greeted with a mountain of paperwork and an angry boss, sit next to a grumpy colleague and have to work with an archaic and un-usable IT system, the net ratio is rather negative. On the flipside, if you have a clear plan of action for the work you need to do, your colleagues greet you with friendliness and the IT systems you use help you achieve your task easily, the net ratio is positive. 

A gamification system is one part of this overall network of interactions in an employee's work experience. So, when using gamification in your team or workplace, remember the importance and power of positivity. Use the gamification experience as a point of delight.
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