By Professor Huang Xu
Do you consider yourself to be a creative force at work or do you often hit creative roadblocks? Creativity is not an easy trait to understand or nurture. From a psychological perspective, some people are naturally born to be more creative while others, simply less so. Some even say that creativity is dependent on childhood experiences before the age of three and that creativity may not change unless an individual experiences a particularly impactful event.
With this being the case, how can we boost creativity at work? The answer could lie in an unexpected place: building stronger relationships at home and establishing a better work-family balance. Our research shows that there is a strong positive correlation between happy marriages and creativity at work.
Employees in a happy marriage experience a boost in psychological resources that are essential for being creative and innovative at work. The positive spillover effect of psychological resources into work life is even more pronounced when both partners in a marriage are happy, powerfully enriching workplace creativity.
This spillover effect mainly affects less creative personalities, who see their workplace creativity score in the 4 to 4.5 range make a dramatic leap into the 4.5 to 5 range. Highly creative personalities receive much less significant benefits from the family-work resource spillover, as their workplace creativity only barely increases and remains within their typical 4.5 to 5 range.
While marriage is understandably seen as a personal and intimate matter, it is still an area where businesses can provide greater support for their employees while maintaining respect for privacy. We should look at how employer-provided services can benefit happy marriages and ultimately drive workplace creativity.
Establishing family-friendly policies
In the West, employers can be more willing to offer flexible working hours and family-friendly policies that promote better work-life balance, thus giving employees more resources for creativity. For example, some companies allow employees to leave earlier to take care of their kids or pick them up from school.
Previous studies echo the observation that American multinationals and European companies focus attention on better work-life balance by granting flexible working practices with fewer working hours and more generous parental leave compared to their Asia counterparts.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shifting the way we conduct our business, beneficial work-from-home policies can also make a big impact on the wellbeing of employees’ relationships at home–and their creativity as a result. But when it is time to be back at the office, providing an in-house counselor could help relieve and resolve some psychological problems for employees, and help address and mitigate marital issues. Furthermore, helping employees take care of children in the event of marital issues can also be a company service of critical importance.
Besides services that seek to resolve existing family issues, work-life initiatives that support and boost employees and their families can be very beneficial. Inviting couples and their children to company parties that cater to their interests can help families feel more familiar with the workplace and each other, fostering a stronger sense of community and ultimately boosting workplace creativity and satisfaction.
Inspiring less creative employees
While highly creative people are naturally predisposed to developing new work solutions, less creative employees need help to gain the necessary psychological resources to be innovative. In addition to the benefits that are derived from a strong and stable marriage, companies can do more to ensure these employees push themselves and reach their creative potential.
One step is creating a knowledge-sharing company culture. In promoting the cross-pollination of ideas and collective sharing, companies can help employees of all creative levels thrive by learning from one another and bring about concrete returns for the business. An analytics company cited a 147% increase in performance in organizations with highly engaged teams versus companies with less engaged workers.
Having the proper motivation in place can also help drive creativity. Ensuring that the work is challenging and interesting for employees also helps drive their sense of intrinsic motivation. We see that when people enjoy their work and take great interest in it, they genuinely become more creative.
Even in occupations that may seem less creative to outsiders, there is strong reason to believe that a worker who is highly interested in their work will be extremely creative. This creativity can take the form of an employee finding new ways to make their life easier and accomplish their tasks more efficiently. This type of creativity presents a massive opportunity for further research and development.
Starting with supporting a strong foundation at home, companies can now better understand how their focused policies and measures can positively affect employee creativity and boost their performance.
About the Author
Professor Huang Xu, Associate Dean (Research & Postgraduate Studies), Hong Kong Baptist University School of Business.