What the Platform Economy can learn from the success of Wordle
Feb 24, 2022
In this blog post, Mark Griffiths, Head of Social Impact at Collective Benefits, offers his thoughts on what the platform economy can learn from Wordle's success when it comes to attraction and retention.
Playing Wordle has many of the characteristics that you look for from your work, including work in the platform economy. For example, it is intrinsically interesting and, for many people, something they come back to again and again.
As the platform economy looks for practical responses to the recruitment and retention issues they currently face, one source of insight is to look at the success of Wordle and to ask why it is so popular.
Three lessons come to mind:
Make it social
By only releasing one game each day, for many people Wordle has brought back a water cooler moment - a moment of conversation about a shared experience. I know of work teams who share their Wordle performance at breakfast and, of course, Social Media is full of those squares.
The social nature of Wordle’s appeal explains the ‘outcry’ when inadvertently two different correct answers were made available on the same day. The social contract that we could gather around the same result felt broken.
In contrast, this human need for social connection is often unsatisfied in the platform economy - work can be isolated and solo.
On-line and off, this can be addressed.
For example, at Collective Benefits we have run a Pit-Stop for our members to recharge and connect. We also frequently run on-line community building initiatives, such as our recent Collective Heroes competition.
Calibrate the challenge (not too easy, not too hard)
We are motivated by challenges that involve the right degree of stretch.
Not too easy, so that we can experience a feeling of accomplishment when we get the right answer. But, on the other hand, not so hard that we feel overwhelmed or demotivated by the impossibility of the task.
At its best, Wordle operates in this sweet spot. When it doesn’t, then I feel like not returning to play.
For example, I did play Wordle on the notorious day when ‘Caulk’ – a waterproof filler used in building work – was the correct answer. All my family thought it was too hard.
On the other hand, there’s evidence that work in the platform economy is often insufficiently challenging.
In a survey that Collective Benefits carried out of 1,000 platform workers in the UK, we found that 28% of platform economy workers say that their skills are ‘much higher’ than their work requires. 43% say ‘a bit higher’.
There is a whole field of work, Job Crafting, that helps people re-craft their existing roles to make them more interesting, often without involving any need for management approval. For example, a waiter who loves hearing peoples’ stories can lay greater emphasis on that part of his role.
At the organisational level, effort could be made to support people to do this, or, admittedly harder, to redesign the nature of the task.
Provide feelings of agency
We choose to play Wordle and (sometimes) we feel that we have some control over the outcome. If this agency is lacking, then we feel demotivated.
For example, the Wordle storm about the word ‘shake’ - you could be on the final line and face a choice of ‘shape’, ‘shame’, or ‘shale’ - can be explained as frustration at a lack of agency.
This seemed more like luck, than skill.
One strength of the platform economy is providing agency over when and where work is done. On the other hand, so-called ‘algorithmic management’ is widely seen as reducing agency.
However, even here, there are practical ways of making algorithmic management more agency enhancing, rather than less. For example, through helping workers meaningfully understand how the algorithms work.
In reality, work will never always feel like playing Wordle at its best. That’s one reason why we get paid.
But, more parts of our working lives can be - and those which are left can get closer.
For workers, this would enhance their motivation and wellbeing. For platforms, it would be one part of a response to the tricky, ongoing, question of attraction and retention.
If you want to read more from Mark on attraction and retention in the platform economy, we’d recommend this blog.