Scary bosses stamp out creativity: Study

Workers who have a good relationship with their bosses are more likely to be creative in the workplace, according to new psychology research from the Australian School of Business at the University of New South Wales.

However, the study, which has been published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal, found workers who fear their bosses are less likely to produce innovative work.

Author of the study, PhD student Benjamin Walker, told SmartCompany approximately 130 business students participated in the laboratory study, which involved an assessment of the students’ personalities and a lateral thinking task.

“What we found was that the students that had a high level of fear were less creative,” he says.

Conversely, Walker says the students who displayed an “approach orientation personality” or a disposition for goal-oriented work were more likely to come up with creative responses to the task.

Walker says the research findings are corroborated by other psychology studies which have found while individuals who work in high-stress environments might complete their tasks, it is not “high-level, innovative work”.

“Many organisations put pressure on their employees with fear of negative consequences such as reprimands or losing their job,” said Walker in a statement.

“While these fear tactics may get employees to work harder, in situations of fear the employees may be less able to generate higher quality work that involves creativity. To facilitate creativity, organisations need to help employees be relaxed and stay in a positive mood rather than working under conditions of fear.”

Walker says it is important for employers to strike a balance between maintaining work standards and getting tasks done, and creating a supportive workplace that rewards and challenges employees.

He says instead of instilling in employees a fear that they could lose their job, a better approach would be to identify areas in which employees can develop their skills.

“One of the largest management conferences in the world was recently called ‘Dare to Care’,” says Walker. “While it might sound a little ‘fuzzy’, it’s all about creating a stimulating and challenging environment that gets the best out of people. And if you look at companies that do this well such as Google and Apple, these are companies that people want to work for.”

“There is also the whole other issue that people who do better in a workplace, stay longer,” says Walker. “And that reduces staff turnover.”


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