Flow and Enjoyment at Work
Flow experience is a short-term peak experience (almost an actualisation) at work that is about absorption, enjoyment and intrinsic work motivation. During these times of Flow that occur when we are doing our job and any similar activity like studying, or even deep immersion in a hobby, time flies and the experience of the task itself can be extremely pleasurable. The ‘highs’ experienced during Flow, along with the long-term fulfilment resulting from repeated experience of this can lead to high levels of job satisfaction – we enjoy our tasks and derive deep satisfaction from the act of performing our work itself. In some of my work on teaching for example we showed that teachers report optimal Flow experience and intrinsic enjoyment much more than comparative careers such as IT/telecoms, marketing, PR and administration and accounting – although lower enjoyment in the latter two are no surprise to me!
When you experience Flow you feel:
- Fulfilled — having a sense of meaning and purpose to work;
- Excited — enjoy a variety and a broad range of interactions;
- Satisfied — you feel enabled in your self development and derive pleasure from the task itself;
- Enjoyment — your work can be an immediate source of long-term pleasure.
When we looked at teachers in one research project they smiled on average 10 times per half an hour, and light-hearted exchanges occurred on average five times in each half-hour session – although this might be sign of hysteria! Experience diary entries also showed that teachers feel happy and excited during the day, with results for a positive mood being around of six out of a total of seven hours of the day.
Have you ever said to your friends after work?
‘The fun and the variety of the job is fantastic and the fact that I never ever look at my watch and say, ‘oh an hour left’ it’s always the other way round “I’ve only got an hour left.”‘
‘It’s challenging, and it’s inspiring, and it’s everything I expected it to be. It just provides job satisfaction like I couldn’t imagine you’d get elsewhere…there can’t be many jobs where you meet so many different people, and they are all individuals and they all bring their own characteristics, and there are so many different characters. Really, you can’t fail to have fun with it.’ [Science teacher]
Some of the work on teaching staff showed that teachers experience higher levels of enjoyment and optimal Flow experience than comparative careers. Enjoyment in the classroom and in extracurricular activities is shown to be important in developing pupil–teacher relations and enhancing pupil development. Teachers gain both short- and long-term satisfaction from developing pupils, they find the work fulfilling, exciting, and extremely varied. The ‘buzz’ around the school and interactions with both pupils and colleagues add to the sense of enjoyment. The cyclical nature of the school year adds to satisfaction and gives a sense of accomplishment and renewal.
Optimal peak (Flow) experience is linked to challenge, using the ‘whole self’, interest in the subject/task, and regular feedback – when work contains these aspects then people get a real buzz and get down to work.
Creating the environment for people to get these types of experience at work such as empowerment and autonomy and space to do their job can be a real advantage to organisations and perhaps lies at the heart of many leading companies success.
So do you experience Flow at work?