U-M Report: Employee Respect Can Boost Creativity Levels

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When workers engage with each other respectfully at the office, they can reach higher levels of creativity, say new studies from the University of Michigan.

“Organizations are fertile terrains for interrelating that can either build or destroy human accomplishments including creativity,” says Jane Dutton, a professor at the U-M Ross School of Business and a co-author of the studies. “Across our studies, we demonstrate that respectful engagement is more than simply a nice way to interact, but is a catalyst and cultivator of creativity.”

Dutton says she, along with a professor at Tel Aviv University in Israel and a doctoral student at the Ross School of Business, conducted four studies looking at the relationship between respectful engagement and creativity at both the individual and team levels. She says respectful engagement is defined as behaviors such as recognizing, understanding, and appreciating another person and making requests — not demands.

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The researchers also looked at relational information processing, defined as how employees use conversation to reflect their goals and work. Dutton says such processing can provide insight into knowledge creation, work improvement, and the capacity to manage conflicting demands.

She says Pixar, a computer animation studio in California, is a good example of a company that encourages conversation surrounding goals and work between co-workers, which has helped lead to the development of high quality, creative films and ancillary merchandise.

“In a more demanding work world the cultivation of respect is challenging,” Dutton says. “These studies remind us of the potential yield from making respectful engagement an interpersonal goal and a strategic imperative.”

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