Finding your Flow at Work

Finding your Flow at Work

Alicia Curtis
Written by: Alicia Curtis
Alicia Curtis

Why do some people dread their work and others find it a source of motivation and energy in their life? With a little investigating about what made people happy at work, I came across a study by Wrzesniewski, McCauley, Rozin and Schwartz that found three common ways people saw their work.

It was either a:

Job: not a positive part of your life, something that gained financial rewards only and not enjoyment or fulfilment.

Career: where there was not only financial gain but also some career advancement within their organisation too, or

Calling: where people are motivated to work not only for the financial or career advancement gain but they viewed their work as fulfilling and socially useful to the world.

How do you see your work? Would you describe it as your calling? And what causes people to view it in such ways?

Now, you might think that some jobs may be more in line with being a calling than others. For example, surely being a teacher or an international aid worker would always be a ‘calling’ compared to being a factory worker or a cleaner!

Well actually, apparently not!

All jobs can be someone’s calling

The researchers found there would be all three dispositions in most industries. So how can that be? How could someone view a job as a cleaner, for example, as a calling? Well, therein lies the secret, it really all depends on how we view things.

In a similar study, Wrzeniewski and Dutton interviewed a range of hospital cleaners, some who saw their work as a calling compared to others who saw it as a job. So what was the difference? The employees who saw their work as a calling did the following things:
• broadened their formal job boundaries to include additional tasks such as interacting with patients, bringing flowers to brighten the day of staff or showing visitors around.
• timed their work to be the most efficient.
• saw the bigger picture of the work they were doing e.g. helping patients get better.

The study went on to describe other examples in a whole range of industries including hairdressing, engineering, nursing, information technology and hospitality, demonstrating no matter what your industry is, how you view your work will have a strong effect on our work satisfaction.

It’s similar to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who in his book, Flow, explores how people reach flow (described as an optimal state of experience in their work) by working on goal directed activities that challenge our skills and expertise.

Let’s unpack this a bit…

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described flow as an activity that you are “so immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity that we lose sense of space and time” or effortless concentration and enjoyment!

The key components to reach flow were clear goals, real time feedback and feeling challenged enough based on your current skills and expertise.

So if you’re keen to step into flow, here are some starting points:

1. Consider the broader impact of your work and connect to this as the purpose of your work. What is your calling? Connect your key strengths with your purpose or calling. Really connect with this intrinsic source of motivation.
2. Stretch yourself by finding challenges that push your knowledge and expertise. What development activities will challenge and excite you? Think about your biggest fears and how you can overcome them. How can you push yourself out of your comfort zone?
3. Find flow activities outside of work. Put your phone away and find activities and connections which make you lose track of time. Get outside into nature and go for a hike or a walk along the beach. Spend time with people and try a new activity like dancing or rock climbing. The sky is the limit!

Work is such a big part of our lives and despite whatever circumstances you have to deal with at work, you can reframe your view of work to create meaning and possibly live a happier life as a result.

This is my challenge to you: How can you view and act as if your work was your calling? Let’s start the conversation here!

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