Employee Engagement

What Binge Watching Can Teach Us About Employee Engagement


When was the last time you heard your boss say, “Hey, instead of doing all that work, why don’t you just go home and binge watch the new season of Game of Thrones?” You haven’t. Nobody has. For as long as it has been a buzzword, binge-watching has been associated with laziness, with un-productivity, and with, well, couch potatoes. And so it may come as a surprise to you—and your boss—that binge-watching isn’t a symptom of the lazy, or a bad habit of the slacker generation. It’s actually the key to employee engagement and employee productivity.

No, we’re not arguing that you should blow off work and check out that new season of your favorite show (though that does sound nice). What we’re simply saying is that there’s a lot to learn about the modern worker through this fascinating global trend of media consumption. Here are a few of the lessons you can take back to your team today—or go home and think about while you cruise right through the next two seasons of that new show you’ve been meaning to get to.  

Your Employees Need a Good Story

For all the talk about tweet-length attention spans and unhinged screen addiction, binge-watching may have provided an interesting counterpoint in the argument that our ability to focus has gone to rot. While there are certainly activities that we may get too distracted during (looking at you, driving!), this doesn’t mean that we are incapable of focusing: we simply choose not to.

So what’s stopping your employees from really engaging with their work? They don’t have a narrative that they can buy into. Emil Steiner, who did his doctorate research on binge-watching for Temple University, notes this unique reason that we binge-watch multiple episodes of a show, rather than walking away after one and waiting until next week for the follow-up. “Viewers … feel closer to what the writers intended. … [they] describe the ability of binge-watching as improving that narrative immersion.”

You may be wondering what that has to do with your business, right? You’re not a writer—what does your work have to do with creating a story? As it turns out, as a manager, you are a storyteller. Through everything from your company’s mission statement, right down to your team’s goals, you are crafting a narrative for your team. Intentionally or not, you’re answering questions for your employees like –  

“Where do I belong on this team? What is my purpose at this organization? Where am I going to be in a year?”

Each member of your team is a character in your business’s TV show. Each of them has a character arc—a direction that their personal story is headed. When you can help to craft a clear vision for them of where that character is going, you’ll find a team of people who are intensely more interested in doing the work to get there. Would you watch a show that never developed it’s characters?

Do you think someone would ever write a series that didn’t have a clear plot? So why would you not do the same for your team? Start by helping your team to outline their personal and collective goals, then create a plan for how to achieve them. That simple task will put the more mundane day-to-day work into perspective, and be intensely motivating for getting them to their “season finale.”  

Your Employees Are Motivated By Success

Speaking of goals, don’t underestimate the power of success as a motivator to drive employee engagement. Emil Steiner went on to note another interesting trait of binge-watchers: “Viewers … say when they start a show they want to finish it. They can’t put it down. They find the sense of completion to be a compelling force for them. And binge-watching facilitates that.” You undoubtedly are familiar with this same sensation: whether it’s the day’s worth of chores you had been meaning to check off, sending off that one huge report to your team, or finishing three seasons of Breaking Bad in one weekend—indeed, a mathematical improbability—there’s a deep satisfaction to successfully completing long-form tasks.

At Hoopla, we’ve noticed this deep sense of satisfaction that comes from success, and turned individual wins into company-wide celebrations. In the same way you might be quick to broadcast to your group chat that you’ve finished the last season of Mad Men, our platform helps to broadcast someone’s win to the entire organization, giving everyone the chance to recognize and relish in someone’s job well done. When you create a culture that celebrates individual wins as a victory-for-all, your employees will feel a greater sense of ownership and pride in their success.

It will help them to feel a sense of accomplishment in their work as it contributes to the overall health and goals of your company—and in turn, it will help them to value and feel valued in their everyday tasks.  

Your Employees Are Relentlessly Competitive

At our core, we are competitive people. It has driven economies, friendships, and sibling rivalries for millennia. And Steiner notes this is in two other reasons he says that people are motivated to binge watch. On the one hand, he talks about the motivator of “catching up.” And along with that, we want to catch up to feel included. “Cultural inclusion,” Steiner says, is “a common one that sometimes people are a little embarrassed to talk about at first, but a lot of people binge-watch certain shows because they want to be … part of the conversation with other people.

Often times, it necessitates a rapid consumption of content.” Our competitive nature, it seems, overrides our complacency when we feel either left out or lagging behind. And those two feels can be enough for us to jump into an otherwise time- and attention-consuming task. Sound a little bit like what happens in your office when you promote incentives, promise bonuses, or institute a leaderboard? As addictive and unproductive as binge-watching can be sometimes, there is a goldmine of valuable lessons to be learned from it about employee behaviors—ones that you can take back to your team and use to help them engage with their work in a new way.

So don’t be afraid of this trend: lean into it, and see how you can use these behaviors to change your team’s habits for the better. And then maybe you can reward yourself by catching up on the new series that everyone’s been talking about.