Uber has been testing various gamification techniques that subconsciously influence driver decisions. Should we expect all companies in the future to manipulate and coerce employees psychologically into working harder and longer?
By Zeev Braude, President and CEO of GreenRoad
Uber can’t seem to stay out of the headlines. The ridesharing company has been the topic of a seemingly endless spate of negative stories in recent weeks, ranging from a pending legal battle with Google over self-driving vehicle IP to allegations of sexual harassment to its use of the Greyball tool to avoid giving rides to public officials who were critical of it.
Now, a recent New York Times article takes the stance that Uber “uses psychological tricks” on its drivers. The article revealed the company often experiences a steep drop-off of drivers quitting before they hit the 25-ride mark, leading the company to seek innovative ways to keep enough drivers on the road to meet demand while also keeping drivers happy enough that they stay with the company.
Specifically, Uber has been testing various gamification techniques that subconsciously influence driver decisions. These techniques range from setting earnings goals for drivers and sending notifications on their progress to providing badges for things like having great conversations with riders or being ranked highly on a regular basis.
One recently implemented technique relies on the use of a “binge-driving algorithm, “similar to Netflix’s continuous play strategy, which encourages binge-watching. The algorithm connects the driver to their next ride before their current one ends, leveraging button size and placement that makes it much easier to accept the ride than turn it down. It works nearly too well — drivers complain they rarely have the chance to take a bathroom break out of fear of missing out on rides.
Some psychologists in the article analyze the ethicality of such tactics, going as far as to state that this technology overrides self-control. However, as the article points out, numerous other companies in the tech world, including Microsoft, Google and Uber’s competitor Lyft, employ the exact same methods to encourage their employees to complete tasks.
The article essentially poses the question: Should we expect all companies in the future to manipulate and coerce employees psychologically into working harder and longer?
Despite the negative angle the article takes, gamification of driving is nothing new. Fleet-based companies have been incorporating elements of gamification for years, and the goal of pushing drivers to achieve greater levels of productivity is only a small part of the reason why. More importantly, gamification can keep drivers engaged while they’re on the road for hours at a time, which can be vital for both job satisfaction and safety.
Employee engagement is important for all industries in reducing employee turnover, building company culture, boosting productivity, and reducing accident rates and absenteeism. It’s especially important for fleet-based companies or those with mobile workforces because when employees are geographically spread out and don’t feel a sense of connection to a company and its goals, they are less likely to care about how their individual performance affects the overall success of the company. They may also be less satisfied with their job.
And when drivers aren’t engaged, there is much more than company productivity at stake. Driver distraction plays a role in up to 50 percent of road accidents every day, and fleet drivers are more likely to get into an accident if they’ve been driving for more than one year. The latter stat implies that the further drivers get away from their initial hiring, onboarding, and training period, the less engaged they are.
In general workplace settings, gamification has been linked to an increase in employee engagement. A recent Gallup poll revealed the introduction of gamification in some workplaces boosted performance by 147 percent, decreased turnover by 65 percent, and led to 37 percent fewer employee absences. For fleets specifically, the implementation of gamification often involves gamifying safety elements, such as providing safety scores for each driving maneuver, and encouraging drivers to compete against each other and their own scores to become safer drivers. Shouldn’t that be the number one goal for companies like Lyft and Uber whose success depends on passenger safety and comfort?
While the initial thought of companies manipulating their employees into working may give you pause, the gamification of driving can have enormously beneficial results for both drivers and companies when leveraged responsibly. That is to say when enacting gamification, safety should be the primary goal of the initiative. Don’t use badges or other gamified “driving achievements” in lieu of competitive compensation or tangible benefits. Don’t use gamification to trick employees into working unpaid hours, working for less per hour, or driving beyond the point of exhaustion. Finally, ensure you put safety and the driver’s well-being at the center of every gamification initiative.
It’s tempting to interpret Uber’s every move in light of their recent misdeeds. But when it comes to gamification, Uber may be onto something that fleets have recognized for years: gamification can save lives.