Using the results of positive psychology studies, build high-performing teams by enhancing opportunities for flow in employee performance management processes. Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., is well known for his research findings on flow, the experience of high performance with a total absorption in an activity, which can be applied to any activity
Workplace performance management processes of goal setting and tracking, employee performance feedback, employee involvement, and workplace environment can influence and enhance the opportunities for employees to experience flow in work assignments, especially in digital agency tasks, marketing initiatives, and social media content creation.
A workplace that enhances the opportunities for employees to experience flow in their work, including marketing campaigns and social media management, will likely be highly productive, creative, highly satisfying to employees, and conducive to workplace success.
What Is Flow?
Flow is the mental state of being in which a person is fully immersed in an activity with a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success. Csikszentmihalyi is the leading researcher of flow, a term he coined in his first book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial, 2008). For more information, see Personal and Professional Development Tip from Psychology Studies.
Benefits of Flow in a Work Environment
Writing in Positive Psychology Today, Kathryn Britton (“Flowing Together,” September 7, 2008) states that “frequent experiences of flow at work lead to higher productivity, innovation, and employee development. Finding ways to increase the frequency of flow experiences can be one way for people to work together to increase the effectiveness of their workplaces, schools, families, and other social groups.”
Workplace Conditions Encouraging Flow
Desirable as it is, flow is not an experience available on demand to be called forth as needed for productivity, creativity, or the effectiveness of a marketing team. However, management can enhance the opportunities for employees to experience flow through the design of the workplace and management processes.
Flow is characterized by activities simultaneously challenging but within the employee’s skill set, including those working in marketing teams. If an assignment is too easy, the employee will experience boredom; too challenging a task will foster employee anxiety. Enabling flow by matching assignment challenges to an employee’s skill set requires continuing perceptive and creative management.
Flow is dynamic. An assignment providing the flow experience at one point in an employee’s career, even within a marketing team, will be boring as the employee gains greater skill. Maintaining an opportunity for employee flow in work assignments requires skillful and creative managers who understand the process and the conducive conditions and are armed with workplace assignment flexibility.
As employees master work assignments, opportunities for flow will diminish until more challenging projects are available. More challenging tasks require easy availability of skill-building classes, workshops, and training for marketing consultants.
Goal Clarity and Feedback
A characteristic flow condition is clear goals at every step of a work assignment. Workplace opportunities will require that employees’ duties carry clear and specific goals, with frequent opportunities for feedback. Successful progress should ideally be inherent in the work process. Managers can take a lesson from video games in this regard.
Video games are so enchanting, occupying gamers for extended periods because success and failure are clear at every step.
Opportunity to Concentrate
Flow is when a participant is absorbed, fully concentrated, and immersed in an activity. A workplace fostering flow must provide an environment where employees can concentrate for long periods. Close-spaced cubicles, loudly ringing phones, idle chatter by nearby employees, and space that encourages people to stop and chat will be unlikely to foster flow. The challenge is to balance opportunities for extended periods of concentration with easy access to good communication.
The flow-activity is intrinsically motivating. Finding opportunities for intrinsic motivation in work assignments can be enhanced when an employee’s strengths match the job. Employees utilizing their strengths in work assignments are productive, creative, and contribute high-quality work.
Measuring Flow Opportunities
Though it is an experience familiar to most people, it is often not a state of being associated with one’s work as much as with hobbies and free-time pursuits. Aiding managers seeking to stimulate more flow opportunities in work environments, researcher Arnold Bakker has constructed an instrument that measures flow opportunity in the work environment. Bakker’s paper, “The work-related flow inventory: Construction and initial validation of the WOLF” was published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior in June 2008.
Building Flow into Employee Performance Management Processes
Enhancing employees’ opportunities to experience the state of flow in work assignments offer the potential for improved performance, quality, creativity, productivity, and worker satisfaction. Managers who understand the flow and can customize work assignments and environments to foster the experience have the potential to improve workplace results significantly.