Increase Workplace Engagement By Creating More Flow

Just a few weeks ago, I spent the weekend with three college classmates. One is an academic, enjoying a sabbatical year; the other two are in the medical profession. Both of my doctor friends are exceptional in their fields, and both are frustrated and bordering on burnout.

They both operate in large bureaucracies that are hard to influence and where they rarely feel heard. “Best practice” standards make it challenging to engage change and propose innovations. While they might be skilled and capable professionals, they don’t feel they have any say or control over their work lives — their flow is blocked.

Unfortunately, what my friends are experiencing at work is not unique. Today, too many smart, good people feel “awful” at work, as if they are unable to do their best, most important, and most impactful work. They feel uninspired and out of control. According to Gallups’ 2015 poll, 68% of employees are not engaged (of that number, 17.2% describe themselves as disengaged). In other words, the American workplace is comprised of unfulfilled workers. These are people who feel like they have no way to continue growing on the job. The good news is that even in the face of organizational obstacles, these individuals can find a way to thrive at work.

How Flow Can Fix Low Workplace Engagement

Flow is the state of both feeling and performing at your best. According to research by McKinsey, in flow, we are five times more productive than normal. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that the most successful nations and societies of the 21st century will be those that ensure people have a maximum opportunity to be involved in flow-inducing activities. It’s not surprising. We experience flow when we feel challenged yet capable. We experience flow when we feel a sense of control (self-efficacy) and value (intrinsic motivation) in the work that we are doing. For this reason, creating more flow is essential to fixing the low levels of engagement currently reported in so many workplaces.

Flow is good for business, for the bottom line, and for individuals — but creating it is the responsibility of both organizations and individuals.

How Individuals Can Create More Flow

Feeling engaged at work can be the difference between misery and magic. Flow begins with identifying and clarifying one’s goals and creating actionable objectives to achieve those goals. Flow is about optimization. For this reason, it requires putting one’s systems in order and clearing away the clutter in one’s mind and work environment. Finally, flow is about embracing a “hacking mindset” to achieve more and do more faster, easier and more efficiently.

To begin tapping into flow, everyone must take action, but the actions don’t need to take up a lot of time. For example, try the following three actions:

1. Reconnect to feeling great: By re-engaging with moments when you felt great at work, you can uncover your success criteria. What are the conditions, types of projects and work environments that position you to be at your best?

2. Take responsibility: Get in the driver’s seat and figure out the small shifts that you can make to increase your flow. Everyone has ownership over their physiology and mindset. Spend more time in preparation.

3. Engage a better mindset: Creating more flow is a mindset. It is a mindset focused on change and on self-awareness. Ask yourself the following questions: What is important? Where can you have an impact? What else can you do to take action?

How Organizations Can Create More Flow

Companies know that employee engagement has a direct implication on customer satisfaction, net promoter scores and the bottom line. But ultimately, this means that companies and employees want similar things—to feel that they are doing good work on important projects.

To help create more flow and empower employees to do their best work, organizations must shift employee engagement strategies from feel-good team-building events to creating more flow in day-to-day practices.

To begin tapping into flow, everyone must take action, but the actions don’t need to take up a lot of time. For example, try the following three actions:

1. Reconnect to feeling great: By re-engaging with moments when you felt great at work, you can uncover your success criteria. What are the conditions, types of projects and work environments that position you to be at your best?

2. Take responsibility: Get in the driver’s seat and figure out the small shifts that you can make to increase your flow. Everyone has ownership over their physiology and mindset. Spend more time in preparation.

3. Engage a better mindset: Creating more flow is a mindset. It is a mindset focused on change and on self-awareness. Ask yourself the following questions: What is important? Where can you have an impact? What else can you do to take action?

Originally published on Forbes.com