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Most of us know the feeling. Maybe it comes Sunday evening or at the first sound of the alarm the next morning, but the dread of going to work on Monday after two days of freedom can make a job seem like the absolute worst. If people spend one-third of their lives working — 90,000 hours over their average lifetime — what a waste it would be if they spent all that time hating their job. Aside from the decline in health and quality of life for the employee, companies face higher turnover, poor productivity and low team morale, which would keep everyone from ever accomplishing anything.
Except for the independently wealthy, we may not have a choice when it comes to dedicating that large slice of our lives to work, but we do have a choice in how to approach it. We can suffer through that time as disconnected and dissatisfied employees, or use it to drive our personal and career development, enjoy it and find fulfillment. Creating this optimal experience for employees, however, requires a team effort. For employees who dread coming to work on Mondays, the solution is employers who encourage engagement and a state of flow.
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Flow is the cure
Time really did fly as kids when we spent it having fun, but as adults, we still desire to be in that state of flow and stand to gain even greater benefits from it. In flow, time melts away. All consciousness of the self and feelings about the task disappear. Employees deeply immersed in their work achieve great things without realizing how many hours have passed. When they finally stop and recognize their accomplishments, they feel happy and want to achieve more. No worker would dread going into such an environment to start work on Monday.
In his national bestseller Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi provides compelling evidence that all people are happier and more satisfied when they are in flow, a mental state we naturally slip into when we are hyper-focused. Through this total concentration, says Csikszentmihalyi, concerns for the self start to disappear. Employees can exercise control over their actions with a deep, effortless involvement free from the worry and frustrations of everyday life. Of course, this only happens with work that challenges the limits of their abilities, aims to accomplish clearly defined goals and comes with immediate feedback to guide progress with confidence. Some of these characteristics of a flow state are possible to achieve alone, but all are necessary. We may not have the support at home, but in the workplace, leaders share the responsibility of creating that optimal experience.
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An engaging environment fosters flow
If flow is the top way to shake our Monday blues, an engaging work environment is a way to foster that flow. Employers and employees need to align behind carving out the appropriate foundation for employee flow to exist. In an optimal work experience that enables flow, employees are fully engaged in their work and excited to develop their skills, not for a paycheck but for personal betterment and a genuine interest in contributing to a company’s growth.
To push employees there, leaders can offer capable employees opportunities to take on challenging tasks enough to avoid boring them but not so far out of their expertise that their attempts cause anxiety or burnout. Leaders can also make sure their goals are clear and understood and that employees receive immediate feedback to guide them in the right direction. Promoting an engaging environment that allows for flow can be as simple as eliminating distractions so employees can focus on progressing in their skills or offering up their most valuable contributions to the team.
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Employees have to want it
Employers can do their best to encourage flow, but no one can force an employee to enter their flow state: They have to genuinely want it. Employees need to create an intentional space for the mind to concentrate enough to exercise control over their actions. Technology today can facilitate concentration, but only if we intentionally activate those features — turn off phones or disable notifications. When I need to go into focus mode, I don’t let anything other than Slack send me push messages because any more interruptions would disrupt my flow, but I have to choose to do that.
Once the right environment is in place, fostering the optimal experience to benefit from that environment is largely up to the employees themselves. However, leaders can still contribute to that decision. Workers need the motivation to enter flow, but leaders can step in where that is lacking by tying it together with increased productivity, achievement, happiness and future growth. Employees need to choose to contribute to a quiet workspace, but employers can make rules around protecting the time dedicated to flow. I get up early because my morning times are my most productive, but I know other people, like developers, work well into the night. Both are OK, but everybody needs to know and respect those flow times, and employers can and should encourage that.
If employees are distracted or disrupting the flow environment of others, leaders can step in and have a conversation to figure out why those employees are disengaged. When one employee who worked with us had to start working from home, she flat out disliked it. She felt unproductive and unable to concentrate enough to enter flow. So, we got her an office space for her to start driving to every morning, and she felt able to be more productive there. Discovering that had to start with a conversation. Encourage a workplace where employees feel comfortable initiating conversations with their employer when they need to work together for solutions.
Flow is a team effort. It may look like employers can do a lot to get employees into flow, but they can only do so much. Flow maximizes long-term growth and earning potential, but employees share a disproportionate responsibility for getting there. This is why leaders need to do what they can to encourage flow. When employers encourage and employees are willing to enter a flow state, people dread their jobs less. Those in charge help shake the Monday blues for their employees, and workers have an easier time making that intentional effort not to view work negatively.