Applications of flow to work

Moneta, Giovanni B. (2017) Applications of flow to work. In: Flow at work: measurement and implications. Psychology Press / Routledge, New York, pp. 7-21. ISBN 9781848722781


In the early 1970s, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi interviewed surgeons, rock climbers, composers, dancers, chess players, and athletes, asking them to report their experience when they engaged in the most challenging phases of their preferred endeavors, and he reported the findings in the seminal book Beyond Boredom and Anxiety (1975/2000). The interviews produced a wealth of textual descriptions that, although coming from persons with different backgrounds and working in different domains, shared six main themes: (1) focused concentration on the present activity, with centering of attention on a narrow stimulus field (e.g., "When I start, I really do shut out the world"), (2) merging of action and awareness ("I am so involved in what I am doing... I don’t see myself as separate from what I am doing"), (3) loss of self-consciousness (e.g., "I am less aware of myself and my problems", (4) sense of control over one’s own actions (e.g., "I feel immensely strong"), (5) unambiguous feedback from the activity (e.g., "You don’t feel you have all sorts of different kinds of demands, often conflicting, upon you"), and (6) autotelic experience, that is, the sense that the activity is an end in itself, and hence runs independently of external rewards (e.g., "The act of writing justifies poetry"). Csikzentmihalyi named flow the simultaneous enactment of these six themes, and set out to search for its origins and consequences. In the early 1990s, Csikszentmihalyi (1996) investigated through interviews the experiences that 91 outstanding individuals had prior to conceiving novel ideas and seeing them recognized by peers as innovations. Intense and recurrent flow at work emerged as the main theme underlying each innovation across the domains of science, art, and business.

In the past two decades, researchers in the fields of organizational psychology and management have increasingly focused on the occurrence of flow in the work context across a wide range of occupations and organizational contexts, including scientists (Quinn, 2005), medical doctors (Delle Fave & Massimini, 2003), software engineers (Debus et al., 2014), and school teachers (Salanova, Bakker, & Llorens, 2006). They identified important antecedents of flow at work, including individual difference components (e.g., Eisenberger et al., 2005), work environment characteristics (e.g., Mäkikangas et al. 2010), and the additive or interactive effects of the two (e.g., Bakker, 2005; Moneta, 2012a; Salanova, Bakker, & Llorens, 2006). Scholars also identified important consequences of flow at work, including enhanced employee’s psychological well-being (Debus et al., 2014; Fullagar & Kelloway, 2009) and enhanced job performance (e.g., Demerouti, 2006; Eisenberger et al., 2005), in general, and creative contributions to work (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996), in particular. These findings have raised interest among scholars, managers, and employees in the possibility of modifying the existing work environments and management processes to foster flow for individual workers, teams of workers engaged in a common work project, and entire organizations.

The present chapter focuses on the role of flow in organizations and the strategies organizations could adopt to redesign the work environment in order to foster their employees’ experience of flow at work.

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