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The measurement of flow and social flow at work: a 30-year systematic review of the literature

Pedro Jácome de Moura Jr (Department of Management, Universidade Federal da Paraíba, João Pessoa, Brazil)
Carlo Gabriel Porto Bellini (Department of Management, Universidade Federal da Paraíba, João Pessoa, Brazil)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 2 December 2019

Issue publication date: 6 February 2020




The purpose of this paper is to review three decades of the literature on flow measurement and propose issues to advance research on the measurement of social flow at work.


In a systematic literature review, the authors analyzed 143 articles published in the first three decades (1983–2013) of scholarly publications on flow measurement, of which 84 articles used scales to measure flow and 16 articles used scales to measure flow at work.


The main findings are: flow is frequently measured in association with other constructs or by means of proxies; flow measurement is highly dependent on a study’s purposes and context; flow is mostly studied at the level of the individual and, when studied beyond the individual, the measurement of flow in groups is simplified as an aggregation of individual-level measures; and social flow at work is an underresearched construct that nevertheless impacts organizations in important ways, thus deserving a specific research agenda.

Research limitations/implications

The first limitation refers to the databases included in the review. There is always the possibility that important works were ignored. Another limitation is that the coding procedure was highly dependent on the authors’ discretion, as it did not include independent coding and formal assessment of agreement among coders. But the greatest limitation may refer to our very perspectives on flow, flow measurement and social flow at work, as they are highly attached to current models instead of seeing the issues with different lenses. This limitation is also present in the literature.

Practical implications

Reviewing three decades of scholarly publications on how flow has been measured contributes to organizations in their planning for person-job fit. The measurement of flow can reveal if and when flow correlates with personal characteristics and organizational events, thus serving to inform initiatives on personnel development, acculturation and job design. However, considering that flow as a social phenomenon has been conceived in superficial terms, that a vast number of empirical studies were developed with non-professional subjects, and that flow measurement involves significant adaptations to each situation, organizations are thus advised to be careful in adopting extant instruments.


This study provides a rich account on how flow measurement has been addressed in the scholarly literature, and it calls attention to research opportunities on social flow at work.



de Moura Jr, P.J. and Porto Bellini, C.G. (2020), "The measurement of flow and social flow at work: a 30-year systematic review of the literature", Personnel Review, Vol. 49 No. 2, pp. 537-570.



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