Bellagio Carpet

Bellagio Carpet

Does Las Vegas have anything to teach Employers about employee engagement?

I've recently been reading about "flow", a state of extreme focus and productivity - and the lengths that Las Vegas casinos will go to in encouraging it.  This got me thinking about how Flow could be applied to the workplace, and whether Las Vegas has anything to teach employers about it.

Flow is the concept of intrinsically motivated activity - activity that is in itself rewarding, regardless of the outcome of that activity.  In this 2002 article, Flow is described as having these characteristics:

  • Intense and focused concentration on what one is doing in the present moment
  • Merging of action and awareness
  • Loss of reflective self-consciousness (i.e., loss of awareness of oneself as a social actor)
  • A sense that one can control one's actions; that is, a sense the one can in principle deal with the situation because one knows how to respond to whatever happens next
  • Distortion of temporal experience (typically, a sense that time has passed faster than normal)
  • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, such that often the end goal is just an excuse for the process.
 Productivity requires the right balance between challenge and skill

Productivity requires the right balance between challenge and skill

It takes the right combination of skill and challenge to achieve flow.  Too much challenge for the individuals' skill level, and the result is anxiety.  Too much skill for the challenge level, and the result is boredom.  Of course, those who are highly both skilled and highly challenged perform the best - which might explain why A Players are widely cited as being many multiple times more productive than B Players.  For example in this article, Steve Jobs is quoted as saying:

Now, in software, and it used ot be the case in hardware, the difference between the average software developer and the best is 50:1; Maybe even 100:1

HR professionals might think of flow in employees as extreme engagement and productivity.  Casinos think of it in its' customers as extremely profitable, and "encouraging flow" in Vegas is big business.  For example, the casinos use some of these tricks - some more applicable to the workplace than others:

Regular Feedback

Lights and sounds provide gamblers with regular feedback on how they are performing.  This motivates them to continue.  It's easy to imagine how this one can be incorporated into the workplace.

Recognition

The occasional free ticket or meal makes visitors to the casinos feel valued and important.  In many cases, the payoff in loyalty is much greater than the cost of the gift - in casinos as in workplaces, people get a boost of motivation from recognition and a sense of achievement.

The Physical Environment

Ugly Carpet

The psychadelic carpets in Vegas give a sense of the surreal, encouraging the distortion of temporal experience, one of the conditions of "flow".

Getting rid of the clocks and windows

Vegas casino's don't have clocks or windows - again, the distortion of temporal experience and losing sense of time.

Scents

When a casino in Las Vegas pumped a pleasant but unidentifiable scent into a slot-machine area on a Saturday, the machines raked in about 50 percent more money than on the previous or following Saturday.  Elsewhere it's been suggested that pumping pheremones into the air encourages people to gamble more aggressively

Music

Music can help to encourage people into a trance-like state.  Casinos use this to great effect, and it's been reported elsewhere that some casinos even use different music in the same elevator depending on whether you're going up or down to regulate mood.

Challenge matching the Skill

As mentioned above, flow happens when a the challenge and the skill are in synch - if these are out of balance, then boredom or anxiety are the end results.

The casinos in Las Vegas spend a lot of time and money researching these conditions to encourage "flow" - and I wonder if there are any of these concepts that we can apply to workplaces.  After all, if "Flow" is the secret to happiness as Csikszentmihalyi claims, then setting the work environment up to maximise the chance of flow makes for both happy and productive workers.  Are there any other factors you can think of to encourage "flow" in the workplace?

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