The two things most likely to lead to creativity at work

Team hugs
Team hugs
Image: Reuters/Tim Chong
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If the pandemic has shown us anything about work life and home life, it’s that the two aren’t separate spheres, divided by an impermeable wall. How we’re doing at home generally affects our work, and our work can have a big impact—for the better, or the worse—on our home life.

Now, a new study finds that the combination of two key factors—support from colleagues at work and compassionate love at home—make for the most successful, creative employees.

Yasin Rofcanin, a professor of human resource management and organizational psychology at the University of Bath’s management school, and one of the study’s authors, said that he was surprised to find that friendship between co-workers—rather than the influence of managers, or a company’s formal policies on family support—seemed to be the element most crucial to enhancing employee performance.

“Maybe it’s the fact that, at a daily level, we interact more with our colleagues than our supervisors,” Rofcanin said. “What we found actually was that co-worker support, in terms of providing work-family sharing, and communication about the work-family issues and conflicts of an employee, mattered the most.”

The study, co-authored with academics from IESE business school in Spain and VU Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, didn’t look at colleague relationships in isolation: The researchers also studied how workplace support affected employees’ relationships with their spouse at home, and how that relationship dynamic then played into their effectiveness at their job.

Optimal conditions for employee success

To study these dynamics, the researchers recruited 69 US dual-earner couples and asked them to keep diaries over four weeks. Then they categorized the spousal relationships as either displaying compassionate love, which is about “sharing and caring,” Rofcanin explained, romantic love, or companionate love, which is akin to deep friendship.

Compassionate love at home, coupled with good support from co-workers, created the optimal conditions for an employee to perform well at her job—defined as the generation of novel and useful ideas at work. When workers were well-supported by colleagues, moreover, they brought that positivity home with them, and it in turn affected their partner.

Managers trying to draw a lesson here could look at the overall environment in which their reports operate, rather than focusing too much their direct relationships with those reports, Rofcanin suggested.

Managers might be better off “providing informal support, collegiality, establishing a work environment where informal support networks are encouraged among co-workers,” he said.

Separately, McKinsey released a report this month that outlined what workplaces could do to help create a fairer gender balance in the unpaid labor employees did at home. This study is another example of what might be a trend: The recognition that work can change our relationships at home, and that we should try to ensure the changes are positive.

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