Gamification Motivation

The Science of Progress Bars: Why Are They Great Motivators?

Josh Benedetto

There are few things in life more satisfying than a full meter. 

Whether you’re rolling up to an open street-parking space and the light is still blinking green, or you’re rolling over in the morning to shut off your phone alarm and you see you’re at 100%, there’s a profound level of satisfaction to knowing we’re in the black. 

So why not bring that same sense of satisfaction to your employees for their work? 

Enter: progress bars. Marketing guru Neil Patel, a man who’s spent most of his (very successful) career trying to figure out what drives consumer behavior online says it plainly: “if I had to pick out the most effective tool for onboarding a user, it would be the progress bar.”

Strong words. But let’s dive deeper for a moment.

Why They Work

Progress bars work essentially on two fronts. Patel goes on to point out in that same post the research Lightspeed Research and Kantar, who performed a study of their own and concluded that “progress indicators increase survey satisfaction” and “increase respondent engagement.”

Engagement and satisfaction. Those are the keys to what we’re talking about here. 

As one study of progress bars reported by Psychology Today reveals, “people’s motivation changes with the frame of reference they are using.” Progress bars allow us to orient our employees to their work, helping them to be more engaged, and more satisfied with the work they’re doing. 

Increasing Engagement

Employee engagement, as we’ve talked about innumerable times here on the blog, comes from a sense of understanding our position, how we accomplish it, and what value it brings to our coworkers (and the organization itself). 

Plainly, a progress bar increases our sense of engagement by allowing us to frame our work around a goal. It’s no secret that much of our day to day tasks can be monotonous. But they’re still things we have to get done—whether or not the results are immediately apparent. 

When you’ve got a progress bar attached to that work, you can see not only what you’ve already done, but how much more you’ll need to do to reach your goal. More than just a light at the end of the tunnel, progress bars show us that what we’re doing is making a meaningful impact. 

Creating Real Satisfaction

What managers can often miss about the importance of setting and keeping goals is that not all work is good work. If we’re not properly oriented to our essential KPIs as workers, we could be spending time on tasks that aren’t suited for our role. 

That sort of behavior leads to real frustration in work, and ultimately leads to disengaged employees

A progress bar fixes that. It’s a constant reminder of what work needs to be prioritized, and what tasks are going to get us to our goals fastest. 

It may seem like this is a lot of power to be attributed to such a simple tool. But the results speak for themselves. See how implementing one in your office this week might be just the tool your employees have been desperate to have! 

Josh Benedetto