Co-Worker Support Drives Employee Creativity

Co-worker support is something we all appreciate at work. Discover how a new study reveals that it also boosts our creativity by improving our home life.

Now that I no longer have a real job, I have a different perspective on the various places I worked during my 35-year career in business. One of the things that strikes me is the difference I experienced between the many teams to which I belonged.

At one point in my working life, I was part of a remarkably supportive and creative team that was virtually inseparable. Our group was not only productive, but highly resourceful and creative, which seemed to make us all happier, not only at work but at home.

At another stage, which didn’t last long, the team to which I belonged hardly knew one another. Nobody ever collaborated or sought advice from their colleagues, and I had no more idea than a goat about their private lives.

No More Idea Than a Goat About Their Private Lives

That team plodded along aimlessly, accomplishing just enough to get by. None of them seemed to want to be there, and most of them aren’t there now, including the boss.

It’s hard to put my finger on why one team fostered so much co-worker support, while the other was so indifferent. Even so, I think a lot of it had to do with the leadership styles of the people in charge.

Now, the Journal of Applied Psychology has published a study that tends to confirm my impressions. The researchers concluded that employers seeking to inspire creativity in their staff should foster supportive relationships between co-workers.

Foster Supportive Relationships Between Co-Workers

The study team asked 200 full-time, two-income, straight, American couples to keep a diary for five weeks. Eighty percent of the couples had children.

“Employees take the support they receive from co-workers home with them, and in a loving relationship they transfer this support to their partner,” explained team member Professor Yasin Rofcanin of the University of Bath. “This might mean they encourage them to open up about stresses, seek to resolve issues, or make improvements to the juggle of work-life arrangements that benefits the family.”

Professor Rofcanin went on to explain that both members of a couple benefit this kind of supportive environment. When one spouse brings that co-worker support home with them, their partners become more creative at work.

Positive Feedback Loop Generates a “Gain Spiral”

Just like the old saying that “nothing succeeds like success,” this feedback loop generates what psychologists call a “gain spiral.” “It pays for employers to recognize the value of caring co-workers,” explained Professor Yasin.

Work policies and supervisor interventions don’t have the same impact on employee creativity, according to the study findings. Informal co-worker support proved to be far more effective.

The people who seemed to manage their work-life balance the best were those who had supportive working relationships. This meant that their spouse also benefitted, which improved their performance at their own workplace.

Spouse Also Benefitted, Improving Their Work Performance

What kind of co-worker support are the researchers talking about? That can range from simply being there to listen to offering suggestions for family problems at home.

It also means willingly stepping up when someone needs to be away to deal with family issues, like an ill child or elder care. Covering their shifts or sharing their workload fosters the same positive team environment.

The findings suggest that managers should encourage flexiblity along these lines so that team members can work these things out among themselves. This seems to be far more effective than leaders who try to micromanage their teams and their schedules.

Foster Positive Home Lives for Employees

To maintain this gain spiral, it’s also important that workplaces help to foster positive home lives for employees. That doesn’t mean interfering in their personal lives.

It means not expecting certain things. For example, it might mean ensuring that overtime is the exception rather than the rule or not expecting people to respond to work emails on their own time.

“We’re not suggesting employers should meddle in relationships,” Professor Rofanin explained. “They may be able to positively contribute to the quality of relationships at home by putting policies and procedures in place to minimise work-family conflict.”

Our Success is Due to Our Ability to Support One Another

The more scientists learn about human culture, the more they realize that the notion that assertive and competitive people are the most successful is a myth. Our success as a species is due to our ability to support one another.

Looking back, I’m also reminded of one particularly supportive work relationship I enjoyed at one point in my career. A female colleague and I were so in sync both personally and professionally, that we interacted in much the same way that two spouses might.

This didn’t cause any tension or jealousy at home for either of us, but I can see how that kind of co-worker support might have that effect. The researchers describe these kinds of interactions as “work spouse” relationships.

Refreshing to See a Win For Loving Relationships

Professor Rofcanin wrapped things up by saying, “So much research points to the stresses of being in a dual income couple, it’s refreshing to see a win for loving relationships alongside work.” Still, the team is calling for further research into the potential of work spouse relationships to cause conflict at home.

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.

Learn more:

Employers should nurture friendship and support amongst co-workers to unlock creativity
Sharing is caring: The role of compassionate love for sharing coworker work-family support at home to promote partners’ creativity at work
Agreeable People Are More Successful at Work
Friendly People Ensured Human Survival
Hunter-Gatherer Culture and Storytellers


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