By now, you’ve probably heard abysmal statistics about employee engagement (only 1/3 of employees are fully engaged in work) and presenteeism (physically present at work but mentally checked out), which brings with it staggering costs in real dollars. Fortunately, we can turn to psychology for solutions. A robust body of research on something called flow is particularly relevant for helping employees find engagement and satisfaction at work, in turn, boosting productivity and bottom lines.
Flow is a state of mind in optimal experience, a perfect melding of being your best and doing your best. Some people refer to it as “being in the zone” while others might call it peak performance or flow theory. Research shows that being able to frequently and intentionally put yourself into a state of flow is important for wellbeing and life satisfaction, and the workplace, despite grumbles about not wanting to be there, provides ample flow opportunities.
What is flow?
Flow is a mental state characterized by intense concentration and enjoyment. When we’re in a state of flow, or in the zone, we lose our sense of time and self. Time simultaneously speeds up and slows down, and we lose track of it.
We are so fully immersed in the activity at hand that we stop being self-conscious and stop being distracted by worries, doubts, and that pesky mental to-do list. Interestingly, when we’re in a state of flow, our productivity goes way up.
Positive changes occur in our brain, and we’re just generally better off all around. In fact, we gain more confidence in our abilities and ourselves after being in flow.
Flow activities share a few common characteristics.
- They are intrinsically rewarding.
- They have clear and meaningful goals.
- Feedback is immediate. We know right away whether we’re on track or not.
- We feel a sense of control.
- We have intense concentration and no distractions.
- We are completely present.
- The activity is challenging, and we believe we have the skill to meet the challenge.
This last piece is especially important when it comes to identifying activities likely to achieve a state of flow. When the challenge exceeds our skills, we may feel anxious. In contrast, if our skills exceed the challenge, we feel bored. The goal is to meet in the middle, where the level of skill matches the challenge, thus creating a flow experience and increasing intrinsic motivation.
Tips to Try
Finding ways to increase flow at work is important for employee wellbeing as well as for the health of your organization. Focusing on their skill set and your needs positively impacts you both. Just as chess players know their move three steps ahead, we as leaders must gauge this as well. This month, we’re offering tips for both individual workers as well as for leaders.
For Individual Employees
1. Minimize distractions. Flow requires your entire focus, so limit anything that pulls your attention away.
2. Similarly, get off autopilot. We spend a lot of time on autopilot, barely paying attention to what we’re doing, particularly with tasks we do repeatedly. Instead, make an intentional effort to fully concentrate on what you’re doing.
3. Connect with your why. Regardless of the task at hand, even the monotonous ones you do daily, can you set a goal that challenges yourself? Can you find a way to make the task meaningful and important?
Curate an environment that encourages flow states.
1. Offer opportunities for agency and control. Allow team members to make decisions about how, when, and/or where they do their work. Find ways to give your employees choice and control whenever possible.
2. Set clear goals tied to meaningful causes. When employees understand not only what is expected of them but why it is important, they are more likely to engage.
3. Provide clear and immediate feedback. Offer praise and recognition.
4. Challenge your employees but provide adequate support. Remember, flow requires a balance of challenge and skill.
5. Promote competence by providing opportunities for growth. Are there ways team members can mentor others? Develop their skills further?
Our quarterly workshop series is designed to provide powerful and interesting information and skills to help you and your team(s) build psychological strength. Delivered virtually, live, or on-demand, these workshops are an excellent way to help support your team’s wellbeing and resilience. If you’re interested in learning more, we would love to talk with you about how partnering with Peak Mind can help. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us here.
Peak Mind is partnering with Heart Mind Institute to host the 2022 Best Year of Your Life online summit. This 10-day virtual event is jam-packed with sessions from some of the most influential psychologists, teachers, and visionaries, and it’s FREE!
Join a world-class lineup and get a jump start on your year.