A non-negotiable feature of Disneyland's 2008 contract with Unite Local 11 — which represents the laundry workers who clean linens from the resort's hotels and restaurants — was a new "work-tracking" system that used "gamification" to display realtime signals about each worker's productivity on public leaderboards, colorcoded with the slowest workers' names in red, as well as color-coding indicators on individual machines to indicate whether they were underperforming.
The workers called this system "the electronic whip" and they say that it had the intended effect of speeding up their work — at the expense of bitter fighting between workers (in a workplace that had a decades-long reputation for being a good and pleasant place to work) and a sharp increase in on-the-job injuries.
Disneyland has been the site of intense union organizing, a pushback that was triggered by a decades-long ratcheting-down of real wages and working conditions.
While this whip was cracking, the workers sped up. 'We saw a higher incidence of injuries,' Topete said. 'Several people were injured on the job.' The formerly collegial environment degenerated into a race. The laundry workers competed with each other, and got upset when coworkers couldn't keep up. People started skipping bathroom breaks. Pregnant workers fell behind. 'The scoreboard incentivises competition,' said Topete. 'Our human competitiveness, whatever makes us like games, whatever keeps us wanting to win, it's a similar thing that was happening. Even if you didn't want to.'
The dark side of gamifying work [Vincent Gabrielle/Aeon]
(Image: Cryteria, CC-BY)