Organizational psychology is an important and growing subdomain of applied psychology. It enables employers to better understand the work habits of employees and can be successfully leveraged to improve work conditions and boost professional satisfaction. A recent study published in Personality and Individual Differences aims to bring greater understanding to a well-known phenomenon, the relation between productivity and creativity in the workplace.
While previous studies have drawn such a link, this is the first to consider it from a social perspective—an essential one, given how important a role interpersonal interactions can play in a professional setting. The authors’ goal was to determine whether social information exchange would mediate the relationship between having a proactive personality and being a more creative employee.
To do this, the authors chose to focus on the role of “Social exchange-based employee organization relationships (EORs).” These can be understood as the myriad formal and informal connections within organizations that provide employees with opportunities to broaden their socioprofessional network and gain access to greater and different sources of information.
The study itself took place in a large, state-owned Chinese manufacturing company in Shanghai and included 509 individuals (roughly 64% male with an average age of 34 and average seniority of 8.39 years). Proactivity as a personality trait, perceived quality of information exchanges, presence of social-based EORs, and employee creativity were all measured using five- to ten-item Likert scales (where individuals indicate their level of disagreement or agreement with a statement).
The results of the study support the authors’ hypothesis regarding the importance of information exchange as a mediator between proactivity and creativity. That is, employees that are more proactive tend to be more creative in part because they actively seek out diverse and high-quality information sources that lend themselves to inventiveness and originality.
Additionally, it was found that social exchange-based EORs “stimulate[d] proactive employees to exchange higher quality information with various stakeholders, thereby increasing the emergence of novel and practical ideas.”
There are some limitations to take into consideration. The data is cross-sectional and, as the authors note, “fails to preclude the existence of reverse causal relationships.” In other words, we cannot be sure if greater proactivity leads to greater creativity via exchange of information, or vice versa. “The generation of novel and practical ideas may help employees recognize the value of multi-source information exchange”, which would spur them on to engage more frequently in such interactions.
Second, creativity was measured solely based on responses from supervisors, who may not always recognize an employee’s capacity or potential for creativity. Indeed, this is a leading cause of professional dissatisfaction among employees, which makes it particularly suspect as a reliable measure.
The results of the study have a number of key takeaways for employers, but are also of great value to employees themselves. Broadening one’s professional network and seeking out external and diverse information sources can directly contribute to increased creativity, something most employers value highly.
The study, “Are proactive employees more creative? The roles of multisource information exchange and social exchange-based employee-organization relationships,” was authored by Xi Li, Aishi Zhang and Yuchen Guo.