Corporate Culture is Killing Our Creativity
If you’re familiar with The Look & The Feel and our company story then you may already know that Shelly and I met in 2013 when we worked together in an office in the San Francisco Bay Area. As we got to know one another, we soon realized we had one very strange thing in common—we both broke our backs when we were younger. This led us to many conversations about how sitting at a desk for 40+ hours a week was exacerbating our back pain and making us feel fatigued, irritated, and sore. When you feel physical pain or discomfort, it’s only natural that your creativity takes a hit. Unfortunately, most professionals work at a job that requires consistent creativity and innovation for a set 40+hours a week.
While our story is unique, what we hear from other creative professionals is that stories like ours are not the exception; they are the rule. However, a poll taken by IBM that surveyed over 1,500 CEO’s on what they believed were essential skills for success in the workplace, about 60% identified creativity as the most important leadership skill. You’re probably thinking, “wait a minute, something doesn’t add up here”, and that’s true.
First, let’s start with the typical 9-5 workday. The first law that called for an 8-hour workday in the US was the result of labor unions pushing to limit the hours that employees, who worked mostly in factories and manufacturing jobs, were allowed to work. Before this legal precedent was passed in Illinois in 1867, there was no limit to how much a company could require you to work without overtime pay. So, of course, this new law, which was officially put into action nationwide in 1938, was a step in the right direction. We’ve come a long way since 1938, however. With technology and automation, many factory jobs have been long gone and the nature of the workplace has changed with it.
So shouldn’t we rethink some of these outdated ideas as they relate to our modern working culture? With work-life balance being such a buzzword in today’s society, especially among millennials, it’s important that our companies create and cultivate a culture that fosters, rather than suppresses, creativity and innovation.
One way many successful companies are challenging this outdated idea is by offering flextime to their employees. Flextime simply allows employees to work when it’s most convenient for them. You can implement flextime differently based on what works best for your team. For example, let’s say you require your team to work 40 hours a week. With flextime, your team could work four 10-hour days Monday-Thursday and take Fridays off. Some companies require that leadership work a monthly minimum of on-site hours but, otherwise, employees are free to manage their time and their workloads however they deem appropriate. And, if you really want to ditch the 9-5, you could review your employees based on merit and the quality of their work, rather than on the number of hours they work in the office.
That brings us to our next point: supportive leadership and management teams. As a manager, CEO, or leader of your team, it’s imperative that you trust your employees and show empathy. A brain imaging study found that when employees recalled a former boss that had treated them rudely or without empathy, the areas of the brain associated with avoidance and negative emotion was activated, while the opposite was true when they recalled a kind and empathic boss. Employees will thrive in an environment that encourages employees to take risks, values all team members opinions and creative suggestions, and management doesn’t punish if a creative idea flops. Breaking down the hierarchy within a team can aide in this. If you are managing a team, make sure everyone on the team feels that their voice is heard and that their opinions matter. Go out of your way to help even if you don’t have to. Doing this will encourage people to speak up; the more creative minds you have on your project, often, the more innovative your final product will be.
Lastly, developing a creative culture builds teamwork, which means that managers must refrain from micromanaging employees. It’s challenging to innovate when you work alone or you are constrained by an overly managerial supervisor. Many studies show that fostering social connections at work has a highly desirable effect on team morale. Research finds that employees get sick less often, recover faster, are generally less depressed, display higher mental acuity, and perform better on the job. At The Look & The Feel, we place a high value on collaboration and teamwork—we even wrote an article on things to consider when forming a creative collaboration here. David Yager, CEO of the University of the Arts believes that creativity is both something you can be born with, as well as something that can be taught. As a leader in your organization, by recognizing and rewarding creativity you can start to teach your employees how to foster a more innovative environment for themselves and in return, they can come together to collectively to work even more creatively as a team.
“We can teach people to be more creative. But equally important, we can teach people to recognize creativity within their organizations.”–David Yager
As an employee or team member, do you feel more creative and innovative when you are free to control your schedule, given the space to brainstorm and experiment and encouraged to collaborate with your team?
As a leader in your organization, are your employees more productive and more innovative when encouraged to speak up, ask questions, and throw ideas around without any fear of punishment? If a company, large or small, cultivates a culture where creativity is encouraged and thrives, then it will create happier, healthier, and ultimately, more productive teams.
It’s time for us to challenge the status quo and rethink some of the outdated ideas that drive culture in the workplace because if we aren’t innovative, or encouraging creativity, then we run the risk of burning out our employees and becoming stale and irrelevant.