4 Ways to Help Your Employees ‘Flow’ Freely

Ever heard someone say they were “in the zone”? Or that they “lost track of time”? Or their day “flew by”? What did they mean?

Employee Engagement
What they were describing was the psychological state of flow — becoming utterly, completely absorbed in whatever they were doing at that moment. Daniel Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, says that flow includes “optimal experiences when the challenges we face are exquisitely matched to our abilities.”

Employee engagement and flow are joined at the hip. They both incorporate:

  • Purpose

  • The opportunity to focus

  • Balance between challenge and skills  

  • Autonomy

  • Progress and feedback

Flow is not a new concept. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor and former chairman of the the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychology, first introduced the concept in the 1970s, although it didn’t gain traction until he wrote a book on the topic in 1990.

But with all of the multitasking and Facebooking going on at the office, how can anyone truly get there?

Eliminate Distractions

One of the biggest “flow-pas” is distraction. On average, it takes 23 minutes to recover from being distracted and shift back to the task at hand. Here are some ways to minimize some of the biggest culprits:

  • Hold fewer meetings - block off a few hours at the beginning and end of the day as designated meeting windows, or acceptable times to hold a meeting. This way, employees have a few consecutive hours during the middle of the day to really focus on the tasks at hand.

  • Designate “work from home” days - in addition to rewarding employees with autonomy (see engagement/flow characteristics above), you’re also providing a space where people can’t just drop by to ask a question or discuss their lunch in detail.

  • Establish an email response policy - email is a necessary evil, but it can be held at bay. Let employees know they aren’t expected to reply as soon as they receive emails. Enable them to get into the habit of checking emails once every few hours with the understanding they can call a coworker if it’s urgent. More collaborative tools like Google Docs can help reduce the back and forth, but only if you don’t stop and answer an email notification when a comment is made or resolved to a document!

Provide Flexibility

Ask your employees to periodically observe and jot down how they’re feeling and producing at different times of the day to determine flow patterns. Then provide a working environment that is flexible enough to cater to those needs. As long as employees are achieving flow, it usually doesn’t matter what hour of day or night it is (deadlines still apply, of course).

Play to Their Strengths

According to a study of 7,000 people conducted by Blessings White, “more opportunities to do what I do best” was tied for first place as a top satisfaction driver among engaged employees (along with career development opportunities). It’s difficult to help employees shine when you haven’t taken the time to discover their strengths. This free, 15-minute course by Instructure, the creators of learning and engagement platform, Bridge, can help you determine the best ways to integrate Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder* into your engagement toolbox.

What methods have you tried to help foster flow among your employees? Please share your comments below.

Jeff Weber
VP, People and Places


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