Before turning 21, the average American has spent 2,000-3,000 hours reading books and more than 3x that playing video games. That makes the average Millennial very close to being a gaming expert, according to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule highlighted in Outliers: The Story of Success.

If you've ever tracked your frequent flyer miles, credit card points, hotel rewards, or fantasy football scores you've been engaged through gamification. Gamification is the use of game design techniques and mechanics in a non-game context to solve problems and engage users.

When humans achieve new levels in games, the brain releases dopamine which prompts excitement, encourages exploration to try new things, and helps combat the stagnation caused by failure. The reward-motivated behavior induced by dopamine is the key to increased employee engagement, overcoming challenges, and increased innovation through exploration.

Organizations that learn to hack the Millennial brain by triggering innate reward systems with game mechanics can benefit from increased Millennial engagement and retention at work.

Why is it important to consider gamification in the workplace?

Because today there is an engagement epidemic of epic proportions at work. Seventy-one percent of Millennials are disengaged at work...the most of any generation.

According to the article, The High Price of a Grumpy Work Force, in the June 2016 issue of Inc. Magazine, here are the benefits and costs of an engaged workforce.

  • Engaged teams grow profits three times faster than disengaged ones.
  • An unengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary.
  • Highly engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave a company.

Infusing the engaging elements of games into various aspects of work can re-engage Millennial employees and ensure they remain a contributor at your company.

And one of the best ways to engage and retain Millennials is by clearly defining a career path for them.

How to Define Millennials' Career Paths Using Game Elements

1. Offer Options
Games offer options of who to play with, when to play, and what to play. Games offer the customization of the user profile or avatar (game character) with unique abilities, traits, and appearances. Gamers also thrive on the freedom to choose a specific mission or storyline.

Similarly, Millennials are interested in customizing their career track and the specific work they do. Millennials approach their career not like a ladder but like a cargo climbing net, which allows them to climb up (step into leadership roles), back (create more work-life balance), or side to side (cross-collaborating across departments or trying new roles).

For example, Deloitte has a "Mass Career Customization" program that allows employees to customize their work preferences. The program transforms the corporate ladder into a "corporate lattice," allowing employees to move in many directions (not just upward or downward) and can repeat infinitely at any scale.

2. Provide Hints

Games serve up hints when players are stuck to ensure they continue to play and stay engaged. The hints are calculated based on the direction of the player or the length of time it takes overcoming an obstacle.

Provide hints on what career paths Millennials might be best suited for based on their individual passions and strengths.

For example, Asana, the task management and productivity company, offers employees access to executive and life coaching services that provide employees with hints on how to pursue their passion, balance work and life, or take their career to the next level.

3. Give Control

Gamers are in control of the outcomes. With a controller in hand, gamers control their avatar's movement, decisions, and the ultimate outcome of the game.

Much the same way, Millennials are interested in having control of their careers. They desire ownership of their positions, tasks, and the outcomes.

For example, Valve (ironically, a four billion dollar video game company) offers modular work where employees get to select the projects they work on the same way they would if there were freelancers.

4. Deliver Development

Gamers learn and cultivate skills through action and failing. In fact, according to Jane McGonigal's book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, on average gamers fail 80 percent of the time and yet they still find the gaming experience enjoyable. Development is forged in the failing.

Gamers also have the option to enter tutorials where they can hone their skills or practice a level over and over to master it.

Millennials want a clear picture of what is expected of them and what skills are required to level-up and accomplish more at work. Communicate expectations clearly and provide environments where they can advance themselves throughout their career path.

For example, Zappos offers a "skill set" system that allows employees to get certified and receive a pay bump with each new skill set acquired.

5. Promote Collaboration

We build trust quickly with those that we play games with. We trust they will play within the rules and that they will stick with the game. Growing up playing massive online multi-player games, Millennials came to understand that nothing significant can be achieved alone. The bigger the team, the epic-er the win.

Millennials seek collaboration. They learn better and quicker in teams. Collaborating allows for career development and exposure to other career paths that might be a good fit for the individual.

For example, Treehouse, a company that teaches people how to build websites and apps, has an internal collaboration and project management tool called "flow" where employees can propose projects and then recruit people for the project.

6. Communicate Consequence

Gamers willingly struggle from level to level and puzzle to puzzle for the ultimate goal of saving the world. Gaming is engaging because the result is often bigger than ourselves and we surprise ourselves for what we are actually capable of.

Millennials desire an epic win. Their definition of success is meaningful work. In reality and in games, they want to change the world. Communicate the consequence, "If you do this, you'll achieve this." If Millennials know "the why" of their work or your organization, they are more likely to stay on track advancing along their career path.

For example, at Warby Parker, an eyeglass retailer, for every pair of glasses purchased, a pair is distributed to someone in need. There is a clear consequence for every pair sold and every employee's work is bigger than themselves. So far they've distributed over a million pairs of glasses to people in need--epic win!

7. Highlight Progress

Games offer progress bars and leaderboards that inform where the player started, how far they've come, how they stack up, and how far they have left to go.

Clear visibility into the progress being made and the progress still needed in one's career is an extremely engaging and informative tool for Millennials.

For example, LinkedIn, shows the "Profile Strength" progress bar that encourages users to achieve "All-Star" status by completing their profile 100 percent. The progress bar provides hints on what the user can do to continue to enhance and strengthen their profile. Subtle tool but immensely impactful.

Sensors, technology, big data, hyper-connectivity, and the surge of a generation of gamers into the workplace makes it easier than ever before to utilize and benefit from gamification at work.

Leverage the engaging and transformative traits of games to help define your organization's career paths and the likelihood of having disengaged Millennial employees is...