The Washington Post’s Greg Bensinger has a fascinating story on Amazon’s attempt to make the physically demanding work in its fulfillment centers more engaging—and maybe boost productivity along the way—by letting warehouse works choose to play social games that turn being fast at their jobs into a form of play.
For our recent profile of Amazon HR chief Beth Galetti, I visited the Amazon fulfillment center in Kent, Washington, just outside Seattle. While I was there, an employee who plucks products from robotic shelves and puts them in bins showed me Dragon Duel, one of the games mentioned in Bensinger’s article. Using a touchscreen dedicated to the games, she chose a random staffer elsewhere on the warehouse floor to compete with. They were depicted as flying dragons, with not-so-elaborate graphics that reminded me of a video game circa the early 1990s. I mentioned it briefly in our story.
Amazon declined to provide the Post with any screenshots of its games. But during my tour, I took some photos with the company’s permission. Here’s a blurry one of the dragon race, with the players’ faces blurred even more to respect their privacy:
The screen indicates that the game players get 16 points for each product they pick. There’s a toteboard showing rankings for other employers (who are depicted as Peccy, Amazon’s internal mascot). It appears that you can also pull up stats on the shift in progress as well as a ranking for BFI4, the warehouse I visited. (The dragon game was displayed on a screen next to another that showed non-gamified data about the employee’s work as she conducted it.)
Bensinger’s story quotes a couple of experts who raised concerns about the whole idea of gamifying work processes, for reasons such as the possibility that competing against one’s colleagues might become stressful over time. Then again, the Amazon workers referenced in the Post article spoke approvingly of the games as a way to make repetitive work less monotonous. And they did so anonymously, suggesting that their favorable take was sincere.
One other tidbit not mentioned in Bensinger’s piece: Amazon told me that workers have the option of playing solo games as well as competitive ones. That too might help alleviate any feeling that the exercise is purely about playing employees off each other in a way that might be wearying rather than fun.