Going with the flow: 5 simple ways to improve employee engagement

Going with the flow at work

Are you noticing poor workplace engagement in your employees? You might want to consider “going with the flow”.

Flow is the state of complete focus and engagement in an activity or task, where effort is balanced with enjoyment. According to psychologist and national best-selling author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, reaching a state of flow could be the key ingredient to a meaningful career and overall happy life.

Csikszentmihalyi has devoted his working life to researching the concept of flow, attempting to uncover why some people are passionate about the work they do, while others are unhappy. He notes that during a state of flow, individuals will feel “satisfied, alert, in effortless control, confident, and at the peak of their abilities”.

In the Canadian workplace, both employee well-being and their productivity have become increasingly important values. The concept of flow could address both of these priorities by increasing job satisfaction and efficiency, and also decreasing employee boredom and anxiety.

Here are five strategies to enhance work engagement:

Increase skills training

Csikszentmihalyi explains that flow is best reached when individuals are both challenged and highly skilled. However, when the level of challenge is too high for the individual’s skills, they may feel anxiety, apathy, or worry instead of positively engaging at work.

If a worker is not confident that their skills are adequate for their role, their job performance and well-being may suffer. Therefore, ensuring an individual gets the support they require to best fulfill their role is paramount. You might consider providing mentorship programs in your workplace, integrating a system to offload work demands as needed, or include mandatory skills training relevant to the position and industry.

Increase job demands

When individuals become proficient in the skills required for their job, boredom and monotony may set in; this can result in poor workplace engagement. As skill levels increase to mastery, you should also increase the challenge and demands of the job.

For example, you could assign an individual with greater responsibilities to increase the scope of their role or delegate additional projects to do. You may also consider implementing an ongoing education program in your workplace to encourage continual learning; workers could attend relevant conferences or complete additional certifications or qualifications specific to your industry.

Evaluate the work environment

As the concept’s name suggests, work output and time spent during a period of flow will feel effortless, as if the work ‘flowed’ seamlessly. There is a sense of timelessness when flow has been reached; your workers will not pay attention to the clock, but instead feel enthralled with the tasks they are doing.

However, this is not possible if the physical environment does not facilitate good posture and comfort. Check with your Occupational Health and Safety Department to ensure your employees’ work space is ergonomically safe, with adequate lighting and optimal noise levels; this can prevent injury and discomfort during periods of prolonged and repetitive work tasks.

Along the same lines, workers should have the flexibility to take breaks as needed. If they are hungry or thirsty, they will not be able to establish the intense concentration levels that are required for flow; it is extremely beneficial to allow them to take short breaks if and when they are needed to hydrate, have a healthy snack, and stretch their legs.

Establish clear communication

Another element required to achieve flow is clear work goals and expectations; this is exceptionally important in the workplace!

Employees should be well informed of your expectations of them, as well as the goals for more specific projects and tasks through open and honest communication. If transparency has been established surrounding your team’s work goals and your expectations, workers will feel more confident that their diligent efforts will be well received; they may feel less anxious of failure and more confident in their skill set. If workers feel ambiguous about what is expected of them in the workplace, they will not be able to reach a state of flow or positively engage with their work.

Facilitate the freedom to explore

Creativity is a unique attribute found in people who experienced flow. These individuals often express a drive to ‘work towards making something better’, which requires visionary conceptualizations or imaginative ideas and abstract thinking.

If you support innovative thinking and creativity, you may not only note improved work productivity and engagement, but you could also reap the benefits of incorporating practical feedback and novel insights into your organization or business. For example, you could request employees come to team meetings or debriefings with constructive comments and ideas, or utilize one-to-one performance evaluations to discuss individual engagement. Team building exercises are another opportunity to invoke creativity and ingenuity, as well as to note each individual worker’s strengths.

Psychology literature has demonstrated that the concept of ‘flow’ in the workplace can correlate to improved work engagement. Through implementing these 5 strategies, your employees will be on the path to achieving flow; they will feel confident, productive, and happy, which ultimately increases job satisfaction and job performance!

See also:
Why people quit (and how to prevent it)
What to do when an employee resigns (a step-by-step guide)
How to tell a new hire they didn’t make it past probation


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