In fear of your boss? New UNSW research shows you’ll be far less creative

Monday, 3 March 2014  Features

​"Office managers could certainly harness the creativity of people who are inclined toward creativity by working with them to set goals which have achievable rewards, and offer them new experiences.​"

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New research from the Australian School of Business at UNSW Australia indicates workers who fear their boss are likely to be less creative. By contrast, a person who is given rewards and new experiences will be much more creative in the workplace.

Lead author of the research PhD student Benjamin Walker said “this research could have major implications for Australian companies. Office managers could certainly harness the creativity of people who are inclined toward creativity by working with them to set goals which have achievable rewards, and offer them new experiences.”

The other important finding is that fear decreases creativity. He said “many organisations put pressure on their employees with fear of negative consequences such as reprimands or losing their job. While these fear tactics may get employees to work harder, in situations of fear the employees may be less able to generate higher quality work that involves creativity. To facilitate creativity, organisations need to help employees be relaxed and stay in a positive mood rather than working under conditions of fear.”

The central part of the research is that what is called an ‘approach orientation personality’ increases creativity. An approach orientation personality is when a person is sensitive to rewards, has an exploratory nature, and is driven toward new experiences.

Mr Walker says that “this research has important implications for the workplace. It is not just that an approach orientation personality increases creativity, but that having goals increases creativity. In other words creativity is an interplay between biological factors and cognitive factors. Workplaces can harness the creativity of people who are biologically inclined toward creativity with assistance in goal setting.”

“For example, imagine an office slave who is stuck at their desk every day, in fear that their boss will explode with rage if they get anything wrong: they will just do what they have to do and make sure it is done correctly. By contrast a creative worker who gets on well with their boss will suggest innovative new ways of working, because they avoid the ‘fear of failure’; they know that by being creative they will be rewarded, and have the chance to try something new,” he said.

Professor of Business Psychology Chris Jackson worked on the research with Benjamin Walker. He said “overall, we think openness to experience and fear both play a role in divergent thinking.”

The paper ‘How the Five Factor Model and revised Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory predict divergent thinking’, by Benjamin Walker and Professor Chris Jackson has just been published in the journal

Click here to view Personality and Individual Differences.

For further comment call:
Benjamin Walker on 0405 679 100, or email b.walker@unsw.edu.au

Media contact:
Julian Lorkin: 02 9385 9887

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