By: Lukasz Andrzej Derdowski, PhD candidate and Gro Ellen Mathisen, Professor
The majority of organizational practice and research focuses on exploring individuals’ creative capabilities while staying at work. An emerging strand of research supports the idea that employees’ job-related creativity can also be boosted as they take the time off.
The business press is filled with stories of international companies dedicated to enhance their employees’ creativity. Google do it, Microsoft do it and Pixar do it. To mention a few.
Whereas the vast bulk of organizational studies explore the question of how employee’s creativity can be facilitated while inside the work environment, an emerging strand of research gives a new dimension to this well-established scholarly domain.
That is, a few scholarly endeavors suggest that staff members’ job-related creativity can also be fostered as they take the time off. Organizational researchers suggest the existence of certain psychological mechanisms responsible for triggering this effect. More specifically:
1. Diversifying experiences
Broadly speaking, while on holiday we often visit yet unexplored places, meet new people and explore various realms of holiday experience. Available evidence suggests that these diversifying experiences can in fact enhance people’s cognitive flexibility and creativity. For instance, observations of new designs or a different technical solution at the holiday resort could provoke an ‘aha’ experience that inspires the tourist to come up with novel insights relevant to one’s workplace.
2. Psychological detachment
Psychological detachment from work during off-job time (i.e., temporary mental disengagement from one’s job) may facilitate a period of incubation, which is a process that occurs when conscious attention is diverted away from the task and is thought to be crucial for creative thinking. Thus, leaving the job problems behind while enjoying a holiday may facilitate a cognitive break that in fact helps solving the problems when turning back to work.
3. Physical Distance
When we find ourselves physically near the source of the problem, our thoughts can be automatically constricted, that is bound by a more limited set of associations. When in travel, our mind shifts into an expansive kind of cognition where previously suppressed creative ideas to yet unresolved problems can now reach the ‘surface’ of awareness.
While having a break from a work-imposed routine, people who allow their minds to wander may actually facilitate their capacities for creative problem solving. It appears that non-demanding holiday conditions that allow daydreaming can support an individual’s creative inspiration.
5. Positive work reflection
As the time passes, reflecting on the positive aspects of one’s job during off-work time is shown to be positively associated with active problem solving (i.e. creative thinking) and pursuit of learning when returning to work. For example, instead of using energy on being annoyed on the bad leader or non-supporting colleagues, relaxing and possibly beautiful surrounding may stimulate a more constructive mood.
We are just starting to understand
Despite endorsements of the topic’s importance, little empirical research exists that would help explain ‘how specifically’ and ‘why’ vacations from work affect employees’ creativity.
As it appears that we are at the beginning of the road to fully grasp the intricacies of this topic, many queries await future research.
For instance, one may ask whether some forms of vacation are more ‘creativity-inducing’ than others? Do relaxing beach resorts and stimulating expeditions have a similar effect on individual’s work-related creativity? Do the frequency or the length of trips play a role in influencing in-job creativity? And after all, can these effects be long-lasting?
Once every now and then, most of us go on holiday. In our belief, it is of interest to both private and public sectors to carry out more studies on this topic if we seek to find out how the quality time on vacations could benefit individual’s work-related creativity.