Employee engagement in the workplace

The benefits of an engaged workforce speak for themselves: engaged employees are happier, more productive, and typically perform better. However, keeping employees engaged in the workplace can be a hard feat for any small business owner. To ensure everyone in your team feels fulfilled, you need to understand their current competencies, what their goals are, what their strengths are and what they value at work. All these factors affect employee motivation, productivity and wellbeing.

Exploring the concept of engagement

Looking at the broader concept, “engagement” refers to a state of being, one where we’re super focused and often lose our sense of time. This state of engagement is referred to as “flow” or in sports, athletes often refer to it as being “in the zone”.

Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow” and describes the concept “the state in which people are so intensely involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.’’

Csikszentmihalyi has found that for an activity to be flow inducing it needs three primary components:
1. It must have a clear goal or outcome where progress can be measured.
2. There needs to be clear and immediate feedback. This helps us negotiate any changing demands and allows us to adjust our performance to maintain the flow state.
3. There needs to be a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and our own perceived skills.

If the task at hand is too challenging for our current level of skill we’re likely to feel overwhelmed or anxious, whereas if our skill level is high – say we’ve mastered the task at hand – we’re more likely to experience boredom.

Chart1 resizedd

It’s this sense of absorption that really defines flow. Researchers have found evidence for flow in many different activities, ranging from sports to music and believe it or not – at work. Csikszentmihalyi referred to it as “The Paradox of Work” as he had hypothesised that there would be low or no reporting of flow at work, however his research overwhelmingly supported the fact that many people experience flow at work, and in fact more than when they are engaged in leisure activities.

Not convinced? Well there’s a stack of workplace research that’s found a positive correlation between flow and job satisfaction, enthusiasm and contentment.. There’s also research indicating that a flow state may be contagious, positively influencing those around us.
So, the more people you have experiencing flow at work, the more positive and happier your workplace will be. Imagine your employees totally immersed in their work, feeling like time’s flying, productive and happy – what small business owner wouldn’t want that?

And there’s real benefits for employees too, as research clearly shows that individuals who spend more time in flow at work report greater job satisfaction and enjoy their work more.

Take a moment to consider the following questions to assess how much flow you may or may not be experiencing at work:

1. When I am working, I think about nothing else
2. I get carried away by my work
3. When I am working, I forget everything else around me
4. I am totally immersed in my work.

Now while you may not be totally in flow all the time at work, the more flow you can create for yourself as a business owner and for your employees, the better.

How to induce flow in the workplace

Image 1 resized

As with all workplace wellbeing interventions, it’s recommended that you start with yourself first – i.e. walk the talk. What activities do you love doing, where you’re totally absorbed, time flies and you’re highly productive?

Conducting an audit of all the tasks you currently have and identifying them as flow or non-flow activities is a great start. Now as a small business owner, you may not have the luxury of delegating tasks, but if you can try to delegate the non-flow tasks to someone in your business who has the skills or who is up to the challenge on the task. Keep a diary over a three-month period to monitor your productivity and wellbeing. Hopefully you’ll notice the difference and feel greater levels of energy, which you can put to good use in your business.

Another powerful way of inducing flow is by taking a strengths-based approach to your business. This means investing time and energy into exploring what your employee’s strengths are. There are many strengths assessments available which are either free or inexpensive. Try the VIA Character Strengths Survey or the Strengths Profile which will give amazing insights to you and your employees about your realised and unrealised strengths, learned behaviours and weaknesses. These strengths assessments not only provide insight and improve employee self-awareness, they’re lots of fun to do. However, to experience flow you’ve got to put your strengths to work.

Helping your team to explore their strengths, but more importantly using them to complete their tasks, will provide a fabulous opportunity for them to experience more flow at work. Once they have completed a strengths survey, ask them to review their job descriptions in light of their strengths. Do certain tasks naturally play to their strengths? Is there an opportunity to use a strength to complete a task that might make it more enjoyable?

Having a team strengths session, where each team member provides feedback on the strengths of their colleagues can also be re-energising for the team and is a great way to boost morale. It also opens up a conversation about the opportunity to potentially swap tasks based on strengths.

Taking a strengths-based approach at work not only enhances the opportunities to create more flow, it also positively impacts on workplace relationships.

In our next installment, we’ll be taking a look at R for Relationships, Positive Relationships in particular, and as you’ll discover they’re often referred to as the “trump card” of wellbeing.

Dr Suzy Green

Dr Suzy Green is a Clinical and Coaching Psychologist (MAPS) and Founder of The Positivity Institute, a positively deviant organisation dedicated to the research and application of Positive Psychology for life, school and work.
Suzy is a leader in the complementary fields of Coaching Psychology and Positive Psychology, having conducted a world-first study on evidence-based coaching as an Applied Positive Psychology. Suzy was the recipient of an International Positive Psychology Fellowship Award and has published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. Suzy lectured on Applied Positive Psychology as a Senior Adjunct Lecturer in the Coaching Psychology Unit, University of Sydney for ten years and is an Honorary Vice President of the International Society for Coaching Psychology.