Flow and Organisations
Organisational cultures are transforming and shifting to new models. New importance is being placed on employee well-being and the need for a culture that supports employee mental health and engagement.
Organisations that only focus on profitability have seen their employees lose their drive to work, particularly where their job is viewed as nothing more than just a pay slip. This in turn leads to lower commitment, productivity, and loyalty to the organisation. A lose – lose situation for everyone. Organisations are not getting quality performance from their employees and employees are not feeling satisfied (Csíkszentmihályi, 2014).
Hence, this is where the need of ‘flow’ comes into practice.
Have you ever been so immersed in a task at work that nothing can distract you? Nothing else around seems to matter and time just flies by? This is known as being in a state of ‘flow’.
People enter a state of flow when they are completely immersed in an activity of interest, as discovered by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi,. They are fully absorbed in the task at hand, where all their attention and focus are directed to that activity. This is what an organisation wants to achieve. An organisation is performing at its optimal when its employees are performing and feeling their best. This was found in Csíkszentmihályi’s research where he noted that employees who regularly experienced the ‘flow’ state had higher productivity levels and obtained more satisfaction from their work (Csíkszentmihályi, 2014). Additionally, they would have a drive to repeat that work to again achieve that state of flow. Setting up your business to achieve flow can have extensive positive effects for both the organisation and the employees. But how do you bring the ‘flow’ state in your organisation?
Achieving Flow in your Organisation
Removal of Obstacles to Flow
To experience ‘flow’, the individual needs to be completely immersed in the activity with uninterrupted periods of concentration. However, in today’s work environment and culture, this can be difficult. Distractions are constantly present such as emails, calls, social media and other employees. Whilst, we cannot shut down all these distractions, there are a few changes you can implement to allow individuals to experience ‘flow’. These include single task mentality, allowing employees to turn off their messaging or emails for a period of time or focus rooms.
Employee Focus Groups
Implementing regular employee focus groups gives employees the opportunity to voice their opinions on certain aspects of the business. This also allows for the creation of both short-term and long-term employee driven action plans. This is crucial as seeking feedback from employees creates an environment where they can perform optimally as they feel heard and trusted.
Positive and Optimal Work Environment
Employees want to work for organisations that support both their physical and psychological needs. This includes having a work-life balance to support their well-being and mental health. This can also support other psychological needs such as competence, autonomy, and relatedness, which fuel employee engagement as supported by the Self-Determination Theory. This theory states that an individual’s motivation and engagement in activities is influenced by their experience of competence, autonomy, and relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000). This impacts their performance, persistence and focus levels. By 2025, it is predicted that Millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce. It is clear that this generation seeks more than just salaries and wages (Deloitte, 2014).
Therefore, an employee’s psychological need for autonomy can be fulfilled by empowering individuals to make their own decisions on certain things such as flexible working hours or job crafting. The need for competence can be satisfied by praise and relevant challenges such as opportunities to learn or mentor. Relatedness is also achieved through quality connections that make employees feel a part of a team. Additionally, being part of a supportive team fulfils employees need for belonging as well as the organisation’s need for effective collaboration (Friedman, 2015).
Clarity of Goals and a Shared Mission
Implementing clear, concise and timely goals ensures everyone in the organisation knows what is expected of them and understands the goal they are working towards. Uncertainty is a prominent barrier to ‘flow’. Rather, clear goals are needed to allow employees to focus on their tasks and to reduce unnecessary meetings. Having a shared mission helps make employees feel their work is meaningful and contributing to their shared goal.
Culture of the Team/Organisation
A constructive culture needs to be embedded in the organisation to support states of flow. There needs to be a focus on working in an affiliative, humanistic and encouraging manner with one another to get tasks done well with high levels of achievement and self-actualisation. In aggressive cultures there is a focus on competition, power, perfectionism and/or oppositional attitudes and behaviours. In contrast, passive cultures see high levels of approval seeking, conventional, dependent or avoidance attitudes and behaviours. These are unlikely to promote flow states for team members.
Attitude and Focus of Team Members
Employees need to be focused on wanting to do a good job and help to build a company they can be proud of. Excessive selfish interest aims only on the self. E.g ‘I want to make a million dollars before I am 30’ tends to lead to failure because we can become insensitive. This can be in regard to the joys of doing a good job, helping others and helping to build a company for the greater good. Without these, flow is almost impossible to achieve.
Benefits of Flow in an Organisation
- Individual becomes fully immersed in their task at work which leads to optimal performance
- Engaging work fuels professional and personal achievements
- Contributes to the growth of your organisation
- Drives employee happiness and fulfilment
- Drive to repeat those tasks to experience the flow state
- Flow state is a source of creativity which leads to innovation
For an organisation to achieve the optimal state of ‘flow’, all members of the business need to be on the same page. Therefore, the organisation and employees both need to understand the importance of achieving flow in the business and their work culture to successfully perform and function at the optimal level.
Veretis specialises in helping employees, teams and organisations build processes to enhance the ‘flow’ state. Contact us to find out more.
Csikszentmihalya, M., 2014. Good business. New York: Penguin Books.