It turns out the side hustle that Uber drivers exhibit to earn income is being helped along by another hustle--of the behavioral science sort.
A story by the New York Times revealed the extent to which Uber uses behavioral science, psychology and even video game techniques to coax drivers into spending more hours on the road picking up fares.
In fact, the company employs "hundreds of social scientists and data scientists" to cook up a variety of mind-molding tactics.
For example, Uber sends messages alerting drivers when they're about to log off for the day that they're about to reach some arbitrary income goal. "Your $6 away from making $40 in earnings. Are you sure you want to go offline?" prods one text.
Videogame makers have known for a long time about the power of inducing people to continually pursue a goal just out of one's grasp. In fact, this mindset even has a psychological name, the "ludic loop". (Sounds like a speed-metal band to me)
This seems like an "everybody wins" scenario but such tactics keep more drivers on the road for longer, which can reduce revenue per ride (when drivers are more scarce, fare prices surge).
Drivers also receive alerts about the next fare waiting even before the current ride is over--a la Netflix, which loads up the next episode to induce binge watching. Yes, feeding our addictive tendencies because it's easier to continue with a pleasurable activity than it is to stop it is an actual thing.
Uber has also experimented with using female persona in their texting/messaging to male drivers to be more effective in encouraging them to drive towards areas they want them to, like surge traffic areas. (Ladies, we're just big, dumb animals, aren't we?)
Furthermore, Uber drivers can earn badges for achievements like "Excellent Service" or "Great Conversation"--badges which encourage the behavior that Uber wants but don't put one more dime in the driver's pockets.
The gamification of motivation is real and certainly has its upsides. So will such tactics make it to your workplace? The motivational impact these tactics have would say, yes, at least to some extent.
But for those of you who feel creeped out by the Big Brother approach to motivation, I offer some old fashioned alternatives for your workplace.
1. Instead of driving FOMO, try PLOG (Passion for Learning Or Growing)
Yes, I suppose you could play on your employees Fear Of Missing Out by telling them "Don't go home for the night, you're sooo close to gaining my favor for that bonus!", but maybe there's a better way.
Hold opportunities for learning and growing sacred. Don't give in to the thousands of things that cause such opportunities to be deprioritized.
It's not about what your employees will miss out on, it's what they will gain--how they will become a better version of themselves.
2. Encourage additive over addictive behavior
We do the Netflix thing to each other all day, but it's not as pleasantly addictive. Still working on that recommendation? Great, because, alert, I need you start this new one as soon as your done!
Anyway, it's about mining addition, not addiction. Create the kind of culture where people want to contribute to something greater than themselves. A culture filled with purpose, meaning, caring, and authenticity. One where everyone wants to add their own unique imprint in a positive way because it's encouraged that the sum of the parts makes a greater whole.
3. Make more women as top execs a reality, not virtual reality
I suppose you can have more female voices on apps or 1-800 numbers, or you could actually role model getting women to the top chair. Here's the sobering facts: only 14% of executive suites in America are occupied by a female.
I know this point is a bit soap-boxy and hard to act on, but it can't be written about enough.
4. Instead of incentive badges, how about sincere feedback?
If it comes from the heart, it sticks in the mind. I'd rather have heartfelt, sincere feedback that was thoughtful and helpful then a badge that says I reached a level of ether-excellence.
But maybe that's just me.