Years ago, I overheard a supervisor grouse that many of his hires had the attitude “I have no experience, but I’m willing to start at the top.” Who knew he was recognizing the potential influence of online gaming?

I’m positive he wasn’t referring to me, but recalling his funny line reminded me Onliine Gaming and Work!of the mountain of research on Millennials and how the generation craves meaningful work and flat organizations.

I recently picked up Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. It is not about Millennials per se but describes many of the values that some in that generation may aspire to. I use the word some because it’s so easy to paint an entire generation with broad strokes and miss the nuances of how real people truly view the world.

Online Games to Save the World

Written by game designer Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken sets forth a counter-intuitive thesis: that video games can save the world. In her TED talk, McGonigal says that to save the world (stop hunger and save the environment, just to name two biggies), the world needs to get to 21 billion hours of gaming a week. With a Ph.D. from Berkeley, she calls forth the secret gamer in all of us and cites studies of executives who relax by playing games at work.

Now several years old, the book at times reads likes a dissertation (which I’m sure it was, originally), but the insights on the psychology of humans are legion. Each chapter could have been a book. One important set of takeaways for marketing executives comes from an early chapter about the nature of work itself and why, perhaps, a generation of gamers sees the role of work differently. Here are just three insights about work that come from the world of online games:

Immediate and visual results. Games, writes McGonigal, show us what work should be like: “To finish work in a satisfying way, we must be able to see the results of our efforts as directly, immediately, and vividly as possible.” Games do that in spades. With “levels” and rewards, games satisfy a human longing for achievement and simple recognition.

Clear Missions. Writes McGonigal, “Satisfying work always starts with two things: a clear goal and actionable next steps.” That’s at the core of what makes games so satisfying. There’s no ambiguity in World of Warcraft, for example. Much of play involves the completion of quests which trigger different kinds of rewards, such as experience points and in-game money.

Intrinsic Rewards. McGonigal cites other studies that show that happiness comes not from the external world but from intrinsic work, such as strenuous effort to build personal strengths and social relationships. “[G]ames enrich us with intrinsic rewards,” writes McGonigal. “They actively engage us in satisfying work that we have the chance to be successful at. They give us a highly structured way to spend time and build bonds with people we like.”

Defining Reality and Saying Thanks

At this moment in our careers, most of us are leading teams which include Millennials, even if they are not direct reports. In general, I’ve found the tiny sampling with whom I’ve worked hungry to learn and unenthused with the tacit and explicit rules of hierarchy.

However, work is still work. Analysis is analysis. Writing is writing. Designing is designing. Meetings are meetings. How meaningful, or life changing, can editing a Power Point deck really be?

Yet, even if the work itself can’t be transformed into the exhilaration of virtual reality, we have the power to rally those we lead to something greater than the tedium of marketing. We can create a culture of work that values relationships, rewards success, and connects the doing of work with something bigger than simply the mundane.

Former CEO of Herman Miller, Max DePree, who wrote Leadership Is an Art (1989) and Leadership Jazz (1993), was known for saying that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality and the second is to say thank you. That’s doable. And almost every person in every generation would sign up to follow that kind of leader.

Don’t miss a MENG blog post. Sign up now for direct delivery to your email inbox.

MENG is the indispensable community of executive level marketers who share their passion and expertise to ensure each member’s success.