First, we had ‘quiet quitting’ and now we have ‘bare minimum Mondays’; the idea being you start off the workweek slowly by putting in the minimum effort at your job, and prioritising self-care over work. While we have never been busier, individual productivity is operating at an all-time low and has been for the last couple of decades.
So how can leaders address a lag in productivity and look for ways to keep people engaged and motivated in the work that they do? There are certainly some insights from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who, in his book “Good Business – Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning,” identifies the link between engaged team members, flow, skill and challenge. Flow is defined as “people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”. People are at their most creative, productive and at their happiest when they are in a state of flow. It’s certainly a state of being that employees would want their staff to be in for a lot of the time at work.
But striking just the right balance to have people in this state of flow is a tricky process. The equilibrium can be easily disturbed.
How to keep in the flow
During his studies in the pursuit to find out why and how people are at their best, he studied the work and psychological mindsets of artists who become so lost in their work that they forget to eat, drink or sleep. Some of his subjects described the state they were in metaphorically as being swept up in a water current carrying them away. Hence the term ‘flow state’ was born.
He interviewed a factory worker who did a repetitive job but claimed to love his work and he discovered that the individual challenged himself each day. One day he might challenge himself in regards to time. He produced 600 items in one day, and would set a personal challenge to see if he could break his record for time. The next day he might up the challenge for himself by seeing if he could create the most perfect quality product, the next day he might challenge himself on the economy of movement seeing if he could make the least physical movements to produce each product. He found a way of staying engaged by setting personal goals in his mind to up the challenge for himself.
A parent might find a similar way to engage kids in repetitive, ‘boring’ tasks by challenging them to see if they can clean their room to the same standard as the hotel they recently stayed in, to see if they can unstack the dishwasher faster than last time; and set a timer to see.
Imagine teaching a child tennis for the first time. He or she will have a low skill set to begin with. If you teamed them up with Roger Federer at his most competitive you would very quickly find your child disengaged, unmotivated and unwilling to want to continue. In this instance you have a low skill set and a high challenge. It results in an anxious child. In order to reduce the anxiety and re-engage them, you need to dramatically drop the challenge. Let’s remove Roger Federer from the mix, remove the nets, remove the lines and deliver some very predictable balls from a ball machine and just ask the child to try to hit the racquet to the ball. In this instance, the child will regain confidence, re-engage with the task at hand and reduce their level of anxiety. BUT if they continue on this trajectory, while their skill increases, they risk the chance of becoming bored. You need to lift the level of challenge just enough to keep them engaged.
This same principle applies to all of us in the workplace. Leaders need to constantly access the levels of anxiety and boredom in their team and tweak and change things as needed. If you are tackling this and looking to help your team to access their personal best efforts and get into the rewarding and deeply-fulfilling state of flow at work, here are some questions you can ask yourself;
- Analyse your team members individually – Are they bored or anxious?
- Do you need to increase their level of skill?
- Do you need to increase the level of challenge? You would do this for those who are bored and therefore disengaging from their work.
- Do you need to reduce the level of challenge? You would do this for those who are feeling anxious because the challenge is too much for their skill level (real or perceived).
We are at our most creative and most productive when we are in a state of flow. We need to set the scene to try to allow ourselves and those we work with the ability to be in this state much more often.
Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.