The Millennial Mindset from a Gamification Perspective

When it comes to attracting and retaining millennial employees, neither Fun nor Fear card will do – they seem neither impressed by ping-pong tables nor afraid of the job market. But two other “F”s, as in Flexibility and Feedback, have been shown by research to carry far greater weight. What other factors shape the millennial mindset and make gamification a highly promising tool to help tackle the biggest threat to employers – the alarmingly low engagement and resulting absence of loyalty?


In the past ten years, gamification has built an impressive body of theory and evidence of its viability. One of the most widely used theoretical frameworks is the one developed by gamification guru Yu-Kai Chou and named Octalysis after the identified eight core drives that  motivate people to take action. These are further split into “white hat” (positive motivation) and “black hat” (negative), as well as “left brain” (extrinsic) and “right brain” (intrinsic) core drives.

The associated Octalysis Tool is aimed to facilitate analysis of gamified processes and products but Yu-Kai Chou’s numerous disciples have found broader uses – for example, to explore what makes Game of Thrones so addicting 🙂

The present post will attempt to profile the millennial mindset as regards employment and will use the Octalysis Tool to assess the importance of the 8 main core drives to the millennial workforce. The assigned values are provisional and intended simply to provide a general idea of existing deficits and strengths and their relative importance. The entire analysis is based on data from research by Deloitte, Gallup, and other authoritative sources, presented in the earlier articles Workplace Gamification: Can Employers Afford Not to Engage Millennials? and Portrait of Millennials at Work and the Case for Gamification.

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling

“Epic Meaning & Calling is the Core Drive where a player believes that he is doing something greater than himself or he was “chosen” to do something.”

As all millennial studies and analyses point out, the members of this generation need a sense of purpose and value in their lives and, since many pin their hopes for happiness and fulfillment on their careers, they expect a purpose beyond financial profit and success from the companies they work for.

Core Drive 1 is thus a powerful motivator and companies must communicate (and practice) alignment with this priority. Similarly, a gamified system designed for millennials must serve a clearly defined purpose – whether linked to career progression or to a “greater good” (as in corporate social responsibility initiatives, crowdfunding, etc).

Value: 8

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment

“Development & Accomplishment is the internal drive of making progress, developing skills, and eventually overcoming challenges.”

The ambitious, career-driven, Millennials are confident in their potential but realize it has to be developed. The desire to learn and grow is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of this generation. This Gallup title sums it up best:

Millennials Want Jobs to Be Development Opportunities

This appears to be the strongest core drive  in the context of millennial employment and the most precious source of intrinsic motivation for a gamified system. Development and accomplishment are at the very core of games and gamification, which are essentially about learning and practicing new knowledge and skills; guiding players towards a desired goal through mastery of progressive difficulty levels; and last but not least, making the entire process deeply engaging, immersive and “fun”.

Value: 10

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

“Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is when users are engaged in a creative process where they have to repeatedly figure things out and try different combinations. People not only need ways to express their creativity, but they need to be able to see the results of their creativity, receive feedback, and respond in turn.”

Millennials aspire for autonomy and empowerment at work; they expect to be called on to contribute new ideas and input on important issues. They want to be recognized for their strengths and guided in developing their potential. In other words, millennials need continuous feedback. But time and again, surveys of millennials find prevailing dissatisfaction with the quality and quantity of feedback they get from their managers, of whom they expect ongoing support, mentorship and leadership by example.

This gap is one that a gamified system is particularly well-equipped to help fill. The feedback loop  (both positive and negative) is a central concept in game design and is among the essential game mechanics that gamification strives to implement in real-life contexts.

Value: 9

Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession

“This is the drive where users are motivated because they feel like they own something. When a player feels ownership, she innately wants to make what she owns better and own even more.”

As the drive most closely associated with engagement and loyalty, this is the weakest link in the millennials employee profile and should be the primary focus of employers’ gamification efforts.

We have assigned it a provisional value of 2 to reflect its current deficit and at the same acknowledge the research findings that where the previous three white hat drives are adequately realized, loyalty is highest and millennial employees stay longest.

Value: 2

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness

“This drive incorporates all the social elements that drive people, including: mentorship, acceptance, social responses, companionship, as well as competition and envy.”

They are unquestionably the most connected generation and the most avid social media users, often labelled “narcissistic” and “self-centered”. As aspiring leaders, millennials are building their reputation and influence in social networks even before they enter the job market and constantly curate their ‘social media personas’.

Gamification can tap into this drive by providing  ‘resume-worthy’ shareable content (challenges,achievements, experience, certificates, badges, etc). When company values, mission, and purpose are aligned with millennials’ personal values and interests, they can be influential ambassadors for their employers all while building their own positive image.

Value: 9

Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience

“This is the drive of wanting something because you can’t have it.”

This is the only one of the “black hat” drives of some relevance to millennial employees who are characteristically ambitious, competitive, eager to learn and grow, and impatient for career advancement.

A gamified system could resort to this motivator to build the necessary “sense of urgency” and drive active participation. While workplace gamification experts generally advise against a focus on competition rather than collaboration and teamwork, millennials’ competitive nature and need for autonomy suggest they might be more willing ‘to play the game’ in individual tournament- rather than team-mode; with self-paced single player campaigns, but having real-time progress information about other players.

As for the scarce and enticing “carrot” at the end of the line, we’ve already noted the strong intrinsic motivation to “learn and grow” and the need to see the “tangible impact” of their efforts; an effective gamified system of levels and achievements must therefore be tied in some way to  a career progression path and real professional development.

Value: 6

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity

“Generally, this is a harmless drive of wanting to find out what will happen next. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, your brain is engaged and you think about it often.”

This is the core drive at work in gambling, sweepstakes and lotteries, and one that does not resonate with millennials when it comes to employment and their behavior in the job market,

Research shows millennials want to be (and largely feel) in control of their careers. They need a clear and predictable, merit-based career progression path,

Since we are using the Octalysis Tool to analyze the mindset of millennial employees rather than a specific process or product, core drive 7 has been assigned a nominal value of 1. This it by no means precludes the use of the “curiosity element” to sustain interest and participation in a gamified process. “Unpredictability”, on the other hand, might not sit well with millennials tendency to think in terms of action->outcome, efforts->impact, performance->progression.

Value: 1

Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance

“This core drive is based upon the avoidance of something negative happening.”

In the context of employment, it is obviously the threat of losing one’s job. This is another respect in which employers have less leverage over millennial employees.

Much more pronounced than the fear of finding themselves out of work, is the expectation to have a varied career with multiple jobs and roles. As many as 60% have been reported to be “on the lookout for new job opportunities”.

Value: 1

Developed with Octalysis Tool


The resulting “octalysis profile” has the following notable implications for workplace gamification design targeting this generation of employees:

  1. Desired behavior change from millennials: higher loyalty through improved engagement and satisfaction (foster the deficient core drive 4, Ownership & Possession by satisfying the dominant core drive 2, Development & Accomplishment).
  2. Desired behavior change from employers: providing ongoing, meaningful feedback and support for millennials’ professional development goals; communicating stronger commitment to employee well-being and a purpose beyond financial performance.
  3. Opportunity: a gamified system can provide “resume-worthy”, shareable content to sustain the active social media presence of millennials and their reputation- and image-building efforts.
  4. White Hat vs Black Hat: gamification should strive to harness the already present sources of powerful intrinsic motivation (drives 1-3) with careful use of the “scarcity & impatience” core drive to instill a sense of .urgency and incite action and participation
  5. Transparency: A gamified system targeting millennials must have a high level of transparency, clearly communicated purpose and progression path (ideally linked to professional development and advancement).
  6. Platform: the delivery platform should provide multiple access points and facilitate autonomous, self-paced learning and progression.
  7. Theme: Leadership stands out as one particularly relevant theme likely to appeal to all the prominent core drives (63% of respondents in the Deloitte millennial study say their leadership skills are not being fully developed).


Featured image: Yu-Kai Chou, White Hat vs Black Hat Gamification in the Octalysis Framework


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