Flow is a state of optimal engagement in, and intrinsic enjoyment, of an activity. This study investigated the role of employment position and the prevalence of flow in work. In agreement with Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) and McClelland’s (1958) Theory of Needs it was hypothesised that managers will be more likely to experience flow in work. The relationship between employment position and job change history also was investigated. In agreement with Herzberg’s (1966) Motivator-Hygiene theory it was hypothesised that managers will show less job changes in their career. In context with the poised hypothesis the differences in motivational traits between managers and subordinates were also explored. A sample of 36 UK Nationals consisting of 20 mangers and 16 subordinates completed the Work Questionnaire (FWQ) and the Work Preference Inventory (WPI). The analysis was based on two samples. The Chinese sample encompassed 4 managers and 50 subordinates. The results supported the first hypothesis suggesting that flow theory may be relevant to understanding high performance in organisations. There was no support for the hypothesis that there was an association between employment position and job change history. This is the second hypothesis put forward in this study. Implications of this study were discussed in term of the insight that flow may provide into high performance in the work context.
Over the centuries the function of work - as well as the management of employees – has changed, resulting in a large number of benefits and stressors for workers (Barley & Kunda, 2001;Hughes, 2004). With the introduction of Taylor’s (1911) (McKenna, 2005) scientific models of management and job design, industries experienced an increase in profits. However, at the same time the work environment became more mechanized, repetitive and restrictive (Giedion, 1969). The extent to which work affects an individual’s life negatively is reflected in the continuing rise of voluntary job change in the UK despite the current global recession. The latest figures show that the number of employees in the UK who have been in their current job for more than five years continues to decrease (Employee Turnover and retention, 2008). Recent research of individual’s work encounters focuses on theories of subjective optimal experiences aiming to address this issue.
The concept of Flow, which was first conceptualized by Csikszentmihalyi (1975) focuses on the study of subjective optimal experiences during which individuals are thought to perform at their best. Flow Theory (FT) has largely been utilized to provide explanations for the self-growth seeking trends in individuals (Csikszentmihalyi & LeFevre, 1989; Eisenberger, Jones, Stinglhamber, Shanock, & Randall, 2005; Moneta, 2004). It can be described as:
”[...] a state of profound task absorption, cognitive efficiency, and intrinsic enjoyment, that makes a person one with the activity in which s/he is involved” (Moneta, 2008).
According to Csikszentmihalyi (2004) flow experiences are characterized by activities in which very challenging tasks and high skills are paired (Asakawa, 2004;Csikszentmihaly, 1975; Moneta, 2004). It is also associated with clear goals, clear feedback and a sense of control and mastery. Among other factors flow experiences are dominated by the merging of action and awareness (Quinn, 2005) and an enjoyment of the activity for its’ own sake - irrespective of their rewards and punishments. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that it is the auto-telic aspect that is the desire to set challenges for oneself simply to master them, driven by the needs of growth which is essential to the experience. Little is known about the component of which auto-telic personalities are comprised of (Csikszentmihaly, 1975). However, there is some evidence that individuals with auo-telic personalities have a high need for self development, a preferrence for task based challanges (Asakawa, 2004) and are more responsive to intrinsic rewards (Adlai-Gail, 1994).
Research has shown that intrinsically rewarding activities and motivational traits are crucial to the concept of flow. The term intrinsic motivation is used to describe tendencies of individuals to get involved in activities by virtue of enjoyment, need to surpass personal levels of excellence, interest and a sense of internal gratification. Extrinsic motivation, on the contrary, is thought to describe tendencies to engage in tasks with the view of consequential factors such as reward, punishment and competition (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Self Determination Theory (STD) proposes that similar to auto-telic experiences – autonomy, competence and relatedness are fundamental for intrinsic motivation. However, according to STD, needs for competence and relatedness can only be gratified once the need for autonomy has been sated, suggesting that self set goals are the sole source of intrinsic motivation. Findings from different psychological studies suggested that auto-telic and intrinsic motivational traits may affect the frequency in which flow is experienced. Csikszentmihalyi used both concepts interchangeably (Csikszentmihaly, 2000). Furthermore, high intrinsic motivation is regarded as an index of auto-telic personality. Consequently, measures of trait intrinsic motivation will be regarded as an indicator of auto-telic personality in this study.
The distinction of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational traits is reflected in job satisfaction theories such as Herzberg’s (1966 in McKenna , 2005) Dual-factor theory (DFT). Herzberg’s theory is based on drive reduction models of motivation suggesting that individuals engage in behaviour that provides intrinsic gratification. In the context of work motivators and thus sources of satisfaction are growth, advancement, achievement, autonomy, recognition, responsibility and the work itself. In agreement with the flow theory DFT suggest that the fostering of these events will lead to job enrichment, increased job satisfaction and reduced voluntary turnover rates. Additionally, according to DFT the over presence of so called hygiene factors such as company policies, supervisory practices, status in the company, may cause job dissatisfaction due to their restrictive nature. Ergo, by reason of DFT emphasizes autonomy job satisfaction will be less accessible to employees that work in positions that are highly restricted and controlled externally which in turn limits opportunities to experience intrinsic gratification and flow in work settings.
Lack of job satisfaction has been cited as the main reason for employees leaving work (Lee & Mowday, 1987; Giuliano, 2008). It is worth noting there is a vast amount of literature providing evidence that job dissatisfaction is straining individual’s psychological recourses and affecting quality of life negatively (Stress at Work. U.S,1999; Paoli, Pascal, Merllie, & Damien 2005). The majority of research into this field of psychology was facilitated by a motivation to increase profits through increasing individual’s performance, productivity, and minimizing voluntary career change (Lee & Mowday, 2005). Only in recent years the focus has been shifted onto employee’s positive experiences and paved the way for research focusing on professional development and psychological well being rather than merely increasing productivity.
There is some evidence that flow is experienced more frequently in work settings due to the higher prevalence of highly structured tasks and for individuals with auto-telic personality types (Csikszentmihalyi & Le Fevre, 1989; Moneta , 2004; Eisenberger et. al 2005). Csikszentmihalyi & Le Fevre (1989) also identified that individuals in management positions reported more flow experiences compared to their subordinates. Despite this, there is an overall lack of literature on the occurrence of subjective optimal experiences in work or voluntary job changes of managers (Hambrick, Finkelstein, & Mooney, 2005). Factors such as personality type and need for achievement have been found to influence the frequency of flow in work and professional development (Delle Fave & Massimini, 2003; Moneta, 2004).
Cross discipilary research has identified that the qualities leading to promotion into managerial roles overlap with factors that are associated both with flow and auto-telic experiences. These are high performance, high need for (occupational) achievement (McClelland 1958) (that is the degree in which people engage in challenging tasks) and the capacity to withstand high challenges (Bray & Cambell, 1974). These findings are in agreement with McClelland’s suggestion that managers score particularly high on the need for achievement and power as well as Eisenberger et. al’s (2005) findings which suggest that there is a direct link between the occurance of flow, auto-telic personalities and need for achievement.
The present is intended as a pilot study and aims to investigate the relationship of prevelance of flow and employment position to provide further insight into flow in work. Research indicates that intrinsic motivation correlates with high performance, positive mood (Amabile, Hennessey, & Tighe, 1994) and pursuance of challenging tasks (Moneta & Sui, 2002). It follows that if the mentioned traits and needs foster flow and promotion, then seniority in employment positions will have a positive influence on the prevalence of flow in the work context. In short, managers will experience flow more frequently. Due to the fact that the flow model stressed the importance of the auto-telic traits, self growth needs and autonomy; individuals in employment positions that do not require these characteristics, and that restrict the individual’s autonomy in the work setting, will have less opportunity to experience flow in work. Therefore, the following hypothesis is posited:
(H 1) Compared to subordinates, managers will be more likely to experience flow in work.
There is no research suggesting that the motives that underlie voluntary job change for subordinates also apply to managers. The present study aims to investigate the relationship of employment position and frequency of job change. Studies on organizational turnover indicate that job dissatisfaction is among the top reasons cited to leave employment. In agreement with Herzberg’s theory of job satisfaction, discontent with work is reported to be fuelled by the affects of disempowerment (Giuliano, 2008). The discussed theories all highlight the significance of autonomy. In particular STD postulates that intrinsic motivation, hence job satisfaction, can only be experienced through self determined objectives (Moneta, 2004). This leads in agreement with findings of cross disciplinary research investigating the reason for which subordinates across various occupational groups (Guralnick, 1963a,1963b,1963c) leave organizations - even in times of economic downfall (March & Simon, 1958) to the assumption that managers are less likely to leave their job once they have reached a management position due to the higher degrees of autonomy and control that they are granted. Little effort has been made to investigate the relationship between employment position and frequency of voluntary job change (Knudsen, Ducharme, & Roman, 2009). It is worth noting that high compensation and outward are subscales of extrinsic motivation and are at the same time an index for achievement motivation for career development, for example, in the form of promotion and recognition by others. Therefore, the following hypothesis is posited:
(H2) Compared to subordinates, managers will show less job change prior to the current job.
It has been found that there are variances in the prevalence of flow and the preference in the challenge-skill ratio between individualistic and collectivist cultures (Moneta ,2004), suggested to be caused by the variation of cultural emphasis placed on autonomy and competition and the effects of this on self construal’s observed in previous studies (Kitayama & Markus, 1991). It is suggested that auto-telic personalities are more likely to develop in an individualistic culture and complex family structures in which autonomy and individuality are advocated. Furthermore, there is some evidence failure responses and self-improving motivations vary across cultures and the task performed (Heine, et al., 2001).These findings indicate that there may be a benefit in testing the above hypothesis with samples from more than one culture.