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Hey, Colleague: How do I motivate my staff to put their best foot forward?

Hint: Allow your staff to flex their creative muscle.
staff room
Creative thinkers feel like empowered active participants, rather than a cog in a machine.

Send questions about careers, productivity and work-life balance to kpn@glaciermedia.ca. Please include your name and location, or request to remain anonymous.


Hey Colleague, 

I run a small business with a handful of employees. Not going to lie, it’s been tough, especially during the pandemic. I’m having problems motivating my staff and I feel like they are all slacking off and not using their time wisely. Some of them are even challenging my ideas and want to change processes that are already working. I am feeling quite disrespected and unmotivated at this point. Am I doing something wrong or do you have any advice on how to handle this?

—Anonymous


I’m sorry you are having a hard time but kudos to you for keeping your business running during a pandemic. That already says a lot about you.

As entrepreneurs, we know it never hurts to be a little better every day, right?

Let me tell you a quick story of why I left the nine-to-five in 2016.

Creativity has always been important to me because I always had an insatiable curiosity. I’ve been writing since I could write (diary, stories, poetry, essays for fun). I taught myself how to design and program at age nine. I’ve been freelancing since I got my first computer with dial-up internet.

I strive for the freedom to create whatever and wherever I want. I started my career when I was 19 and I loved my job but I was doing the same type of work every year with long hours that left me burnt out and having no energy to work on my passion projects. 

When I felt I learned enough, it was time to broaden my perspectives. You can’t grow doing the same thing over and over.

Now, if the company offered more autonomy and freedom to pursue different projects or tasks, I may have stayed for longer.

Creatives have ‘complex, messy, deep, contradictory and insightful’ minds driven by plasticity and dopamine with a balance of divergence and convergence thinking. Being born a ‘creative,’ I recognized early on how important creativity is — in all aspects of life. Creativity requires inspiration and it’s hard to be inspired when the culture doesn’t promote it. 

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. Whether it was innately ingrained deep within us at birth or not, it is essential to our well-being.

So I am going to ask you: are you giving your staff the opportunity to flex their creativity?

Some of the top reasons for job dissatisfaction stem from lack of interest or challenge. If humans aren’t creatively challenged, we will start to feel bored and complacent. Our minds are designed for growth because that’s how our species evolved to where we are today. When we aren’t stimulated, we aren’t happy.

That’s mostly due to the dopamine reward system that we evolved with. Being able to apply creative thinking to our work makes it more meaningful and engaging. 

Creative thinkers feel like empowered active participants, rather than a cog in a machine — this leads to productivity and innovation. When you are able to foster this in your staff, you may be surprised at the positive ROI you will receive. Creativity is the most important skill in the world.

What is creativity in the workplace

Creativity is when unconventional and unorthodox ideas and solutions collide. This includes thinking outside the box, coming up with solutions not obvious to others and seeing possibilities beyond constraints.

Creative work cultures are intellectually challenging, encourage innovative thinking, receptive to new ideas, offer resources and provides support. Most importantly, you must trust your staff and give them a level of autonomy.

Why creativity is important at work:

  • Creativity is essential for solving complex problems, especially in our fast-paced world.
  • Creativity is contagious and inspirational, encouraging teamwork and collaboration. 
  • Creativity gets employees motivated as they get ownership over their roles.
  • Creative workplaces are more likely to attract and retain employees.

Are you an emotionally intelligent leader?

A study conducted at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence showed that supervisors can make or break one’s workplace experience. The survey of over 15,000 workers in the U.S. showed that supervisors who are emotionally intelligent gave them more opportunities to grow, learn and advance at work, ultimately leading to employees feeling more positive about their jobs and showing more creativity and innovation. 

An emotionally intelligent leader is good at reading their employees’ emotions, understanding why they are upset and how decisions may affect how their team feels at work. They are able to manage their own emotions and those of their staff when stressed or frustrated by acknowledging their feelings.

Being an emotionally intelligent leader will strengthen the relationship between you and your team, resulting in happier and more productive employees.

How to foster a creativity-promoting work culture:

Creativity is not a skill. Creativity is a state of mind.

Set your ego aside, listen and learn. If your employee has an idea to get things done more efficiently, it’s to your benefit to listen. Instead of shooting down their ideas, be curious and open-minded. Listening to different perspectives will often result in positive insights. Teamwork makes dream work!

Create a more inclusive work environment with fewer artificial hierarchies. Autocratic top-down management styles may not work depending on your industry because it contains a strong element of controlling and micromanaging which stifles creativity.

Instead, be a visionary leader who brings cohesiveness to inspire your team. An innovative environment allows people to flourish. It’s the people who make the product and you need to invest in their growth.

Design your office space to be more collaborative. For example, an open floor plan with a few enclosed cubicles in case more introverted employees need some time alone. It’s your job as a boss to cater to each employee as an individual with their own needs, thus requiring different management styles.

Most importantly, it is so important to trust your staff. It takes a village and you hired them for a reason. Whether you’d like to hear it or not, their unhappiness is a reflection on you as the boss so if they are asking you for changes, you have to be there to listen. It is only if their requests are truly unrealistic, then it could be time to hire someone new.

Bonus: How to be more creative

Cultivate a beginner’s mindset. Pretend you don’t know anything. Ask questions and look for new and better ways of doing things.

Have insatiable curiosity. Curious people are always learning thus having a larger database of things to draw from when they need to come up with creative solutions.

Write every single day. Writers are some of the most creative people — think comedians, poets, screenwriters, etc.

Why?

Seeing ideas physically allows your mind to perceive them in a different light offering surprising new insights. When I want to dive deep into a subject, I write an essay or article about it because it also facilitates learning and research. In turn, I learn more and am suddenly inspired by something else. Stimulating your mind daily will train it to be able to find creative solutions naturally.

Read something every day. Whether it’s five pages of a book you are reading or an interesting article. Make it a habit because you will always learn or be inspired.

Get outside. Nature inspires because it relaxes you and brings you back to your natural state of being. When your mind is at rest, the magic happens. You are finally able to find clarity and see connections between things that would never obviously correlate.

The takeaway

Foster creativity in your company culture to give everyone a sense of meaning: your employees, the company and even yourself. What do you have to lose?