Think about your last casino experience…
Did you spend more money than you planned to?
Chances are you did.
It’s not surprising when you find out that casinos use psychological techniques to attract us, increase our tolerance for risk, increase our desire to gamble and always keep us coming for more.
To name a few (Friedman 81-82):
- The emotional roller coaster of winning and losing makes it hard to maintain our focus.
- Making us use chips (as opposed to real currency) makes gambling more palatable.
The allure, the feel and the color of the plastic chips make losses abstract and allows gambling to feel like more of a game.
- Instead of having coin-filled plastic cups, money is converted into electronic “units” and recorded on paper vouchers. Coinless slot machines make gambling faster and easier because we no longer have the benefit of seeing our coin stack shrink or feeling our cup getting lighter.
Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash
- More winning but smaller payouts: instead of single-row slots, nowadays most machines allow for a large number of winning combinations across multiple rows. We win more on average, but our payout is much less than our initial bet. This tactic works because it promotes the feeling of winning, which leads us to continue betting.
- Casino floors bombard our senses. Blinking lights and attractive sounds flood our senses, while the familiarity of popular images and shows makes us feel safe.
- We feel welcome and wanted, as attractive men and women walk around giving us free alcoholic drinks.
- Alcohol lowers our inhibitions, making it harder to make rational, informed decisions.
Now, you might be wondering, how is this related to the workplace?
A lot, actually.
Casinos promote certain mindsets and use psychological techniques that are useful when applied to the workplace environment, particularly with respect to workplace happiness.
In the world of psychology, happiness has been one of the most studied topics.
Psychologists have found that human happiness is fleeting by nature, because of the ‘happiness baseline’; whenever a ‘happiness-inducing’ event occurs in our lives, our ‘happiness’ wears off after a certain amount of time.
The same is true for bad experiences; studies show that just twelve months after losing the use of their legs, on average paraplegics feel just as happy as they did before their injury (Friedman 83).
In other words, we are programmed to adapt to our circumstances.
Knowing this, psychologists have been trying to find ways to increase our overall amount of happiness by prolonging the time it takes for us to return to our happiness baseline after we undergo a positive experience. There’s no way to avoid our happiness’ return to status quo, they say, but there are ways to delay it.
Here are the insights casinos can teach us about this:
- Frequency is more important than size (84-85)
Small, frequent pleasures can keep us happy longer than large, infrequent ones
The more frequent our happiness boosts, the longer our mood remains above baseline.
When applied to the workplace, this principle yields plenty of useful ideas, like:
- Split up positive annual events into quarterly ones:
Instead of handing out bonuses at the end of the year, why not give your employees smaller quarterly bonuses?
- Space out your spending:
Instead of spending your entire ‘party’ budget on one big holiday party, divide your spending into smaller increments, providing seasonal get-togethers.
- Offer office perks:
Offering employees relatively inexpensive workplace benefits—for example, by purchasing a high-end espresso machine or stocking the refrigerator with interesting snacks— is more likely to sustain day-to-day happiness levels than the sporadic pay increase.
Also, from the employee perspective, access to office perks can often do more than temporarily elevate mood: It also sends an implicit signal that an organization cares about them.
And when employees feel cared for, studies show they perform better overall because they want to give back.
- Variety prevents adaptation (86-87)
“Because our brains are programmed to adapt quickly to our circumstances, we tend to tune out events that happen repeatedly, no matter how positive. Our minds slip into autopilot when our environment is predictable, conserving mental energy for when changes occur.”
This is why we need new experiences to keep us emotionally engaged. The more we do the same enjoyable things, the less attention we pay them.
Which teaches us an important lesson about happiness: Sometimes, in order to continue enjoying something we love, we need for it to temporarily disappear.
How to introduce variety into the workplace?
Here are some ideas:
- Link certain happiness boosts to specific seasons.
Design unique seasonal events that reflect their company culture.
Examples include: Summertime barbecues, fall clambakes, Halloween pumpkin–carving contests, and winter chili cook-offs
- Start a monthly gathering of employees (rotating every month) whose purpose is to find creative ways to make the workplace more enjoyable; it’s a way to get employees involved while giving them ownership over their own workplace experience.
- Unexpected pleasures deliver a bigger thrill (88-89)
“When something surprising happens, our brains automatically pay closer attention, making unexpected events more emotionally impactful. We’re motivated to make sense of events we haven’t predicted and devote more mental energy to thinking about them after they occur. In this way, surprises provide an emotional exclamation point, enhancing the impact of any event—good or bad.”
If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, you’ll understand this principle.
At the start of a romantic relationship, every encounter is exciting because we tend to learn something new about our partner every time we see them; the constant flow of surprises keeps us engaged. Then, over time, we get to know our partner well and the discoveries come less often, making the relationship stagnate.
The same can be said of work.
When we start a new job, we meet new people, visit new locations, and learn new things; everything is new and unexpected. As time goes by, we get used to the work environment, becoming comfortable with our surroundings and with the people around us.
At this point, though, genuine surprises come once in a blue moon. Not to mention that the surprises are usually negative; a colleague leaves or is fired, a product is discontinued, a department is reorganized, etc.
This is why introducing positive surprises in the workplace is a really smart thing to do for any organization.
How do you surprise your employees?
- Rent out a movie theater and take everyone out for the premiere of a major release.
- Hire a massage therapist to walk around the office for a day.
- Pay a professional impersonator to call an employee on her birthday.
The goal is not just to improve mood temporarily but to create an environment of positive
expectations. The more employees anticipate good things happening, the more likely they are to find them.
Did you find these tips interesting and/or applicable to your workplace? Let us know in the comments 🙂
Tell us about your casino experiences! (They can’t be worse than mine…)
Friedman, Ron. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Perigee, 2015.