Is On-Time, High-Quality Work a Gamble at Your Company?

In my work life, it’s a gamble as to whether my boss will ever deliver on any of the long-term projects he’s working on. He’s voiced admiration for the fabled old days of The New Yorker magazine when, according to some stories, writers could be locked away in offices for months, or even years, working on a piece that might never come to fruition. You can imagine, how I, as the managing editor of a weekly publication, feel about that mentality! It sounds nice in theory, but at the end of the day, you need to meet your deadline, and deliver what you promised.

A headline I saw recently about betting in the office for the Super Bowl touched off ideas about how betting in the office could be put to productive use.

First, I’ll say that I almost never gamble—I don’t even usually buy lottery tickets—and have never participated in my office’s Super Bowl office pool. But I can see benefits to Super Bowl pools and other forms of office gambling.

The article I saw that inspired these thoughts of gambling, 4 Tips for Avoiding Workplace Penalties Surrounding the Super Bowl, gives practical advice to avoiding legal troubles, while continuing to allow in-office gambling.

I wonder if there is a way to create a gambling, or betting-like, game that would propel the lackluster workers among us to pick up the slack. For instance, what if instead of using money, vacation days were used, so you could bet a vacation day that your work group would finish a project on time, and with no more than one needed revision or update? If you were really a risk taker you could bet more vacation days. It would work like betting money—you could lose what you bet entirely, or you could find what you invested doubled or tripled. You could bet that your work group would finish the project not just on time, but by a certain date, or that one of your co-workers would manage to meet an important deadline.

I don’t know what laws my idea might run afoul of, but creating peer pressure to finish projects on time, and in good condition, could work, and it could be amusing. There are many employees, including some we all work with, who have easily identifiable patterns. There’s one who always turns in work on time, albeit in need of multiple revisions or maybe a complete do-over, while inevitably the employee at the other end of the spectrum is always working on long-term projects, enmeshed in the endless process, with no end in sight. Creating a game of predicting these individuals’ behavior, and maybe the behavior of your whole work group, could help bring to light what works, and what doesn’t, both for employees and the company as a whole.

What about gambling on the performance of the company as a whole, and of your executives’ behavior and actions? You would have to be careful how you did this because, of course, you wouldn’t want employees to throw their work performance in order to win a bet that the sales team won’t reach their number. But what if you allowed employees to invest vacation days in betting the company will reach its financial goals? The way it would work is you could invest up to a certain number—say five—vacation days that the company will reach its goals. If the company reaches its goals, those vacation days double, but if the company doesn’t reach its goals, the vacation days are lost altogether. So you would be allowed to bet the vacation days, but only on the success of the company, rather than on its failure. If your company has been doing well lately, or has just released a promising new product, some employees might be tempted to take the bet. What would it tell you about the state of your company—and what your employees think of your potential—if nearly none are willing to bet on the company?

When people are encouraged to put their money, or their vacation days, on the line, you learn a lot about what they think of their co-workers, themselves, and their company.

Do you think there’s a way to turn betting and gambling of sought-after assets, such as vacation days or other perks, into a game that exposes employee productivity and how much they believe in your company’s success?

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