In the workplace, your relationships make a big difference to your career.
Just like investing money to make more money, investing time and effort into building relationships can help you gain valuable resources like job referrals, knowledge and prestige.
At work, most of us operate both within our own social network and a broader organisational social network. While there’s plenty of research on the outcomes of these social networks, there’s less on how the networks change over time.
Imagine you’ve been working with a group of people for a while. You’ve become really close to some, while others remain purely colleagues.
What made these bonds with different people stronger or weaker over time?
To find out, we investigated why people prefer to invest more in some working relationships than others.
And we found they tend to develop closer relationships with co-workers perceived as creative. In turn, this boosts the creative person’s popularity (the number of co-workers they communicated with) across the whole workplace.
the power of creativity
Our study aimed to discover whether perceiving a co-worker as creative has an influence on how much time we invest in that relationship.
To do this, we examined how social networks of people and organisations change over time in three ‘sub-studies’.
We conducted an experimental study on 303 full-time employees; another survey study on 294 full-time employees over eight weeks; and an additional survey study on 189 full-time MBA students over one year.
Across the three sub-studies, we consistently found when people perceive a co-worker as creative, they start investing energy into their relationship with them.
Imagine you work with someone you see as highly creative. You recognise this based on your own observations and judgements.
Naturally, you want to spend more time and effort on your relationship with this creative co-worker – not least because you believe it will help boost your own creativity.
As a result, the creative co-worker tends to become more popular across the organisational social network.
DIFFERENCE ENHANCES RELATIONSHIPS
While it’s common for people to initially connect with others from a similar demographic, like people of the same gender or age, this tends to matter less as relationships mature.
In fact, in today’s workplaces, being different or ‘demographically dissimilar’, enhances relationships over time, especially when creativity is a priority for employees.
Being perceived as creative has the strongest effect on relationship closeness over time when a co-worker identifies as the opposite gender and is from a different nationality.
Building relationships with people from different backgrounds usually requires more time and energy than you need with people from the same background. That means people from minority groups can find it more difficult to build relationships at work.
But when they are perceived as creative, their co-workers become more motivated to build relationships with them. Over time, this helps people from minority groups become more popular.
Diverse colleagues also bring unique perspectives and information, fostering creativity and personal growth. As more colleagues want to interact with them to learn about unique perspectives, people in minority groups become more popular in the organisation network.
How can you use this information?
Whether you’re an employee or a manager, there are steps you can take to build closer relationships at work. Being creative is an effective strategy, but sometimes it doesn’t come naturally.
Creativity often involves getting feedback from others and, by involving your co-workers in refining your creative ideas, you not only improve your work but also build stronger relationships.
For managers, building an environment where employees can showcase their creativity to their peers is a great step. It can help workmates learn about each other’s strengths and lead to better relationships that go beyond just surface-level differences.
Managers can initiate relationship-building activities, like introducing colleagues who might be less familiar with each other and encourage problem-solving discussions. Hosting meetings for sharing ideas or even structured events like speed networking can help employees connect in a more authentic way.
It’s important to ensure everyone has a chance to participate, and one group doesn’t dominate the conversation.
Creativity in today’s workplace
In today’s fast-paced work environment, creativity has become a critical form of performance. Companies are increasingly focusing on and rewarding employees for being creative.
Creativity has now become an essential skill for keeping up with the ever-changing demands of the global marketplace. And our research shows that encouraging creativity and relationship building can also help create a more inclusive and successful work environment.
Creativity’s time has come.
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