Turn Work into Play: Increasing Employee Engagement

Mihaly Csíkszentmihály, the renowned psychologist who has helped pioneer the positive psychology movement, has written extensively about flow, a mental state where an individual is energized, engaged, focused and motivated. In his writings, Csíkszentmihály asserts that people operate most effectively, and most happily, if they are working within flow.
Flow turns work into play. When one operates in flow, they are excited and engaged—like a child at play. Csíkszentmihály often remarks that child’s play is proof that flow is natural, even innate, within each of us. We come into this world with the energy, engagement, focus, and motivation to “play.” Sadly, as we grow older, we seem to abandon the continual quest for play, and commit ourselves to work, forgetting that we innately need to keep playing, forgetting that play and work can actually be the same thing. Ideally, the two should intertwine: our work should be, and can be, our play.
If employees are able to grasp and reach flow at work and consequently turn their job into play, they will not only enjoy work to a greater extent (which increases employee engagement), but they will also reach higher levels of production and effectiveness.
How do you create flow in your own job? How do you help your employees achieve flow?
First, create tasks that are challenging, but not too challenging. When tasks are overly simplistic, people fail to reach flow. When they are excessively challenging, the same thing happens. Individuals should be adequately challenged, while simultaneously given the chance to succeed at what they are asked to do.
Second, give your employees, and yourself, the autonomy to, as Daniel Pink describes in Drive, “sculpt… jobs in ways that bring a little bit of flow to otherwise mundane activities.” People should have the freedom and flexibility to dictate pieces of their job. Individuals generally know how to add play to their own jobs better than others will, hence the need for autonomy.
Csíkszentmihály wrote, “Once we realize that the boundaries between work and play are artificial, we can take matters in hand and begin the difficult task of making life more livable.” And jobs more likable. So let’s start playing.
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