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.


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.


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 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?


6 thoughts on “The Productive Workplace has Psychadelic Carpet

  1. Flow is definitely something to take in consideration at a workplace, and it is a lot more powerful than simple motivation. However there is something in it that is a lot more difficult to control. It’s about a “push” in terms if personal beliefs and values, that you can achieve what your are intending to do.
    This dimension is totally overlooked sometime…

    • Thanks Sergio, nice to hear your thoughts. Agree that it’s not something to control, but if we could consider setting the optimum environment in the hope that it might happen more often. I’m a big believer that some of the most important innovations take inspiration from one field, and apply them to a seemingly unrelated one – so why not see if workplaces can learn from Vegas?

  2. Reblogged this on Work-Life Strategies & Solutions and commented:
    The issue of boredom at work is one that many people I’ve encountered don’t take seriously. Some have even asked me, “How can you be bored when you have so many repetitive tasks to do all day?” The answer is explained very well in a post by Alex Hagan. This post contrasts the roots of boredom with the roots of anxiety at work. The issue of establishing a work environment that would facilitate engagement and the experience of “flow” is also discussed alongside an interesting look at how the typical environment at Las Vegas casinos is designed to keep people immersed in activity there.

  3. This is such a great post Alex. The discussion about the environment at casinos really makes you think about the role work environments play in driving employee engagement and the experience of flow. Reblogged at

    • Thanks Lynn. I’m a big believer in “The Medici Effect” – that inspiration and insight in one aspect of our lives and work frequently comes from another, seemingly unrelated one – something I may write a post about shortly. In this case I think Vegas has something to teach employers!

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