Psychological flow is a positive mental state where one is so fully concentrated in a challenging task that self-consciousness falls away, time seems to stand still, and the reward is the experience of meeting the challenge. Previous research on flow in the workplace has been performed on how to create conditions to promote its occurrence in workers, to describe its attendant individual and organizational benefits, and to measure it through self-reported means and physiologically. Such research has been focused on creative endeavors (such as the arts, sports, medicine, teaching), where individuals have high agency over the execution of activities needed to successfully complete the work. This research focuses on flow in back-office transactional work, which has been little studied to date. Transactional work are those tasks that are largely rote, repetitive, and prescribed by standardized procedures, leaving little room for agentic options. Examples of such work include data entry and bookkeeping A theory is next discussed that offers the notion of a holistic system of non-task variables working together with job tasks to create conditions conducive to increasing the likelihood of transactional workers experiencing flow. Flow will next be compared to similar constructs and their relatedness to flow will be discussed. Various flow measurement methods will be presented, along with their advantages and disadvantages. These discussions set the stage for the present set of qualitative and quantitative research efforts, whose objective is to offer support for the holistic work system approach to creating flow. First, a phenomenological study of flow in transactional workers is presented, where their lived experiences of flow are documented and the extent to which certain non-task work system variables support the occurrence of flow. Next, a proof-of-concept laboratory experiment is reviewed, where seat comfort (a non-task work system factor) is shown to be a first-order influencer of flow in the study's participants. Finally, the results of a designed experiment incorporating multiple non-task work system factors are presented and the interaction of high seat comfort and low computer screen contrast are shown to directly impact the occurrence of flow in that study's participants. Flow is also shown to predict productivity improvements in participants when combined with high seat comfort and low computer screen contrast. Additionally, certain physiological functions thought to correlate to flow are selected and measured in the participants. Lower heart rate variation partially correlates to flow. The results are applicable to the design of holistic work systems in organizations employing back-office transactional workers. Recommendations for future research are presented that will strengthen and build on the current results.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Engineering and Computer Science
Industrial Engineering and Management Systems
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
Clapp, Steven, "A Holistic Work System Approach to Creating Flow During Transactional Work" (2023). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 1537.