What Employees Really Want to Experience at Work

“The happiest people spend much time in a state of flow  — the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” — Mihály Csíkszentmihály

The best thing that can happen to people at work is to experience flow.

Flow at work happens when you are completely involved in what you are doing.
When you’re in a state of flow, you know what needs to be done and how well you are doing. You have the skills and tools to get the job done and you are able to thoroughly focus. Needless to say, flow results in higher employee engagement and productivity.

However, achieving flow at work can be very difficult. Friction, the opposite of flow, is something people experience every day in different ways. Contradicting goals or policies, missing out on regular feedback or the feeling of not having the right skills to solve the tasks you are supposed to, causes friction. It leaves people with a feeling of frustration, or even apathy. As a consequence, they might leave the business.

In this blog we will look into three areas that are crucial to creating flow at work:

  • Meaning
  • Timely and relevant information
  • Opportunities to learn

Why Meaning is not the same as purpose

Don’t confuse meaning with your company’s purpose. Every individual has their own unique definition of what is meaningful to them. Experiencing what you do is meaningful is crucial to experience flow at work. If what you do doesn’t make sense, you will have a hard time experiencing any excitement at work. The purpose of the company on the other hand is important as well, but it’s often too high level for people to relate to it in their everyday work.

Leaders play a big role in creating meaning. A key task is helping employees to understand how their work contributes to the success of the organization. It is crucial that leaders and employees set clear goals and expectations and follow up on them on a regular basis. However, often managers overestimate the direction a goal gives  —  and underestimate the feedback people need along the way to achieve that goal.

Ongoing feedback and recognition are crucial for people to understand if they are heading in the right direction. It’s important to point out that it’s not only about receiving feedback and recognition from the manager. Meaningful work is also about being recognized by peers for a job well done and having the opportunity for an ongoing dialogue about relevant topics related to people’s work.

For instance, when a new strategy or new ways of working get implemented, many unforeseeable questions arise. This can’t be solved with a simple Q&A. Organizations have to make sure people have opportunities to ask these questions and get relevant answers. You can’t figure out what is meaningful to a person without understanding his/her context. It’s crucial to be able to listen and respond.

Therefore, employees should have an opportunity to give feedback on their experiences and discuss them with the leadership in an open and transparent way.

Offer the right content, to the right people, at the right time

According to a study by McKinsey, employees spend 19 % of their time at work searching for information, making it a primary reason for why it’s difficult to experience flow at work.

For many years, organizations have made information available to their employees, but haven’t given it much thought about when they might need it — or making it easy to access.
If you really want to help your employees, you have to offer information “in the flow of work”. Focus on giving the right content to the right employees at the right time.

Ask yourself:

  • What kind of tasks are the employees solving, and what is the critical information they need to solve these tasks?
  • When do they need it?
  • How does not having the information affect the quality of their work?
  • Where are they (country, city, office, store, etc.)?

Learning in the “flow of work”

Lack of competencies to get the job done is a big obstacle for creating flow. The way many employees are learning today is causing friction in itself.
Often, work-related training happens in a classroom setting. Employees spend one or two days away from their work and learn a lot, all at once.

Unfortunately, humans forget most of what they learn within a month’s time if the learned content is not being reinforced e.g. applied in their everyday work. The result could be many hours of wasted time.

This is why micro-learning has gained momentum: training sessions are split into bits and pieces and instead of spending days in classrooms, you learn one thing at a time, when you need it. It is facilitated by short video clips or understandable webinars.

The advantage here is that learning is happening in “the flow of work”. People grow as they go and can apply what they learned right away. This has a direct effect on people’s ability to learn. Furthermore, nudging technologies are able to push important information at the right time and place to reinforce learning.

Experiencing flow at work is not easy, but it is often necessary. Here are a few tips to start implementing it:

  • Ensure all your employees have clear goals and know what is expected of them: if you’re not sure, ask them via a short questionnaire
  • Give feedback on a regular basis: we recommend running a short one-on-one session at least bi-weekly
  • Enable people to ask and answer questions and recognize each other: you can create a separate channel in your communication.
  • Understand people’s needs to get the right information at the right time: provide on-demand training courses
  • Offer great learning experiences by making learning relevant in the flow of work wherever it is possible: think about gamifying your courses and making them available online (and mobile friendly)


The Business Transformation Network has posted this article in partnership with Actimo.