Dr. Nicole Tschierske

Achieving Flow at Work: A Recipe for Energizing Tasks

Have you ever been so engrossed in a task that you felt completely „in the zone,“ enjoying every moment of it? That’s what we call a flow state, and it holds the key to making tasks more energizing and less draining. In this article, we explore the concept of flow, its profound impact on our work performance and well-being, and how you can actively create more flow moments in your team.

Flow occurs when we perceive our skills to be perfectly matched with the challenges at hand. It’s not only intrinsically motivating and enjoyable but also a catalyst for improved performance. When in a state of flow, individuals feel more creative, focused, and self-confident. They believe they are performing exceptionally well, and others often recognize and praise their achievements. So, how do we harness the power of flow in our work?

To experience flow, we need to be adequately challenged. When our skills surpass the challenges we encounter, we become bored, and when challenges are insurmountable, we get stressed. The ideal flow state emerges when we find that sweet spot between skill and challenge.

However, not all challenges are created equal. According to researchers Arnold Bakker and Marianne van Woerkom, there are two categories of challenges: challenge demands and hindrance demands.

1. Challenge demands are tasks and conditions that require effort and energy but lead to growth and learning. These challenges help us achieve our goals and are vital for experiencing flow.

2. Hindrance demands also demand effort and energy but offer no potential for growth. They often involve bureaucratic processes or conflicts with others.

So, can we influence the frequency and intensity of flow experiences at work? The answer is a resounding yes. As leaders, we can proactively create moments of flow to enhance both fun and performance for our team members.

Furthermore, studies have shown that experiencing more flow at work leads to higher energy levels, not only during work but also in personal life. Individuals feel less exhausted at the end of a workday, even when they don’t have time for breaks. Enjoying work acts as a protective factor against inadequate recovery.

While this knowledge shouldn’t be misused to overburden team members, it’s essential to be aware of the potential benefits during busy periods when tasks pile up. Creating flow moments can help buffer the exhaustion that often accompanies increased workloads.

When examining how skill and challenge levels impact flow experiences, researchers found that individuals with a higher need for achievement benefit more from greater skill and challenge. In contrast, those with a lower need for achievement seem unaffected by variations in skill and challenge intensity.

This underscores the individuality of how skill and challenge levels influence flow. As a leader, it’s essential to consider these differences when working with team members with varying achievement needs. While high achievers require intense challenges to enter a state of flow and reap its benefits, those with lower achievement needs may thrive with less demanding tasks.

To identify your team members‘ achievement needs, consider asking questions like:

1. Are they eager to take on additional job responsibilities?

2. Do they set challenging goals for themselves at work?

3. Do they excel when handling fairly difficult job assignments?

4. Do they relish situations where they are personally responsible for problem-solving at work?

By recognizing high-achievement individuals and guiding them toward high-skill, high-challenge tasks, you can boost their performance. They may also actively seek ways to enhance their work effectiveness, contribute constructive suggestions to team operations, and motivate their colleagues to find better methods for task completion.

For team members with a lower need for achievement, alternative strategies can enhance their motivation. For example, providing more autonomy or additional support can elevate their job satisfaction.

However, it’s essential to acknowledge that there are limits to what leaders can accomplish. An individual’s self-efficacy (the belief in their ability to excel in a task) and optimism significantly impact their willingness to tackle challenges and experience flow. Those with low self-efficacy or pessimism tend to invest less effort when facing challenges or are prone to giving up when encountering setbacks.

This underscores the role of personal resources, often referred to as attitude or mindset, in shaping an individual’s inclination to embrace challenges, seek new opportunities, and attain a state of flow at work. As a leader, it’s essential to consider the diverse mindset within your team and encourage the development of these vital personal resources.

So, who on your team possesses a high need for achievement? How can you provide challenges that align with their skillset to stimulate flow? Additionally, reflect on your leadership style and your own need for achievement, as it plays a pivotal role in fostering a work environment where flow can flourish.

Further Reading

Better Work Basics​