How much effort do you put into something if you’re bored, tired, angry, restless or feeling unappreciated? However good you are at working past those feelings, I’m guessing that it’s still not 100%. So let’s look at how and why ENJOYING your work should feature in your H.E.A.L.T.H.Y. career and how businesses can benefit from improved productivity and a boost to the bottom line. It’s all about FLOW!
The psychology of performance has been studied for centuries by some very smart people and the overall summary is that:
People who enjoy their work contribute more to the company and the company reaps the benefits.
Using ‘Enjoy’ to mean ‘Flow’
I completely agree with the great psychologists and in my own small way I have witnessed and experienced exactly the same thing throughout my life: Enjoying your job means you give more, because you feel that you’re benefiting and getting something back.
When looking at the statement above there are three areas which I find interesting:
- What does it mean to ‘enjoy your work’?
- What does ‘contribute’ include?
- How can businesses create and benefit from that enjoyment meaningfully?
Let’s take them in order:
I’m going to be more specific on the term ‘enjoy’ and refer to it as a state called ‘Flow’.
Flow is the source code of ultimate human performance. You could also call it being in the zone or the technical term is an ‘optimal state of consciousness’ when we feel our best and we perform our best.Steven Kotler
It is a state makes it feel like one action or decision is flowing naturally and effortlessly from that last.
In this state of Flow we become so focused that everything else disappears; time appears to slow down, our sense of awareness changes and we become completely absorbed. I’m sure you’ve felt it at some point, when you really get into something and you are so focused that time passes without you realising and you produce something of real high quality.
This altered state of consciousness started being mentioned in papers and scientific works as early as 1871 by Albert Heim. By 1970’s the ‘Godfather of Flow Psychology’ Mihàly Csìkszentmihàlyi had turned that into ‘Flow’ following his global research study into positive psychology. He created definable and universal characteristics which can also be measured. He discovered that we are ALL biologically hard-wired to perform at our best in this state. More recently Steven Kotler has written extensively on this topic and his work is fascinating.
Measuring and Understanding the Contribution of Flow
It’s certainly easier to use the term Enjoy as we all know what it means in essence, but it is also very subjective. The definable and proven characteristics of Flow are a much more tangible and measurable reference for when we come to look at the questions around ‘contribution’ and the role of businesses.
Kotler states that Flow is fundamental to overall well-being and life satisfaction, so those who score the highest in Flow measures, score the highest on life satisfaction measures. What does this mean for contribution to a business?
Csìkszentmihàlyi found that workers in their ‘flow’ were:
- More productive
- Found greater satisfaction from their work
- Set goals for themselves to increase their own capabilities
- Would happily carry out work for which they weren’t paid, if it got them to a state of flow.
To make that tangible, McKinsey carried out a fantastic piece of research on Flow in the workplace and they found that senior executives found themselves to be 5x (or 500%!!) more effective when they were in a flow state. That’s the equivalent of being so productive on Monday that you can have Tuesday to Friday off! That’s quite a contribution!
How can a business create Flow in a meaningful way?
Let’s get to the final part of the question, how can businesses create that enjoyment (flow) meaningfully? Meaningfully is an important emphasis because a couple of things done in isolation or at surface level action aren’t going to produce the deeper results; as much as you may enjoy the odd game of table football at lunchtime in the break-out area, it doesn’t compensate for feeling invisible in your next meeting and doesn’t get you into a flow state.
The McKinsey research created 3 useful guiding lights for optimising employee ‘flow’:
- IQ (intellectual quotient) which are the rational elements of Flow such as role clarity, a clear understanding of objectives, and access to the knowledge and resources needed to get the job done.
- EQ (emotional quotient) deals with the need for an emotionally-safe workplace, with trust, respect, a sense of humour and collaboration.
- MQ (meaning quotient) which describes a workplace which offers high stakes, excitement, a challenge and something that the individual feels matters, will make a difference and hasn’t been done before.
90% of the participants in the study agreed that it was the MQ factors in a business which proved to be the biggest bottleneck to creating a flow-rich environment.
As with so many parts of the H.E.A.L.T.H.Y career concept, it’s about enabling employees to have more control over their own work, future and preferences, whilst working in a supportive, safe and challenging environment. It is clearly impossible to create individual working environments for each employee, but an awareness of which factors have the biggest impact and having a few options for employees to explore would go a long way.
We work with businesses in a holistic way to consider how the physical environments and culture can be adapted to increase the amount of ‘enjoyment’ or Flow that employees feel when working. The subsequent productivity gains, retention improvement, increased employee well-ness and surge in creativity will stand as a testament to the benefits. Creating a H.E.A.L.T.H.Y career environment for your employees makes business sense.