Finding the Optimal Working Flow

Topic: Job Performance
Publication: Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (SEP 2009)
Article: ‘Flow’ at work: An experience sampling approach
Authors: C.J. Fullagar and E.K. Kelloway
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Although many IO psychologists are concerned with negative work states and behaviors such as burnout, stress and strain, workplace accidents, and counterproductive work behaviors, it is also important to identify and explain positive work states and behaviors. One such concept is known as flow. Flow is an ideal working experience in which an employee is fully engaged in his/her work. It’s basically a person’s optimal work experience (best case scenario!).

Researchers Fullager and Kelloway (2009) studied the phenomenon of flow in 40 advanced architectural students over the course of an entire academic semester. The results suggest that some individuals tend to experience more flow than others. But, certain characteristics of the work being done – namely  skill variety and autonomy –  were the best predictors of flow. In other words, the ideal work experience of flow tends to occur more when individuals have autonomy and their work tasks require a variety of different skills.

Fullager and Kelloway concluded that flow is best predicted by characteristics of the work rather than individual differences (although there was some evidence that certain individuals experienced more flow than others on average).

The great news about these findings is that organizations have some control over the skill variety of the work and the amount of autonomy granted to employees. In the case of these job characteristics, the more the merrier!  When experiencing a flow state, employees tend to feel happier and report being more alert. Although not specifically tested, Fullager and Kelloway suggest that flow can ultimately lead to increased performance and creativity through its influence on positive mood.

Fullagar, C.J., & Kelloway, E.K. (2009). ‘Flow’ at work: An experience sampling
approach. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82, 595-615.Fulla