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For many companies, a workforce full of creative employees who drive the business forward with vision and originality is an ideal they strive to achieve. Job adverts frequently call for people with creative flair, and corporations often pour huge amounts of resources into forming the best environment for innovative thought.

Ensuring that these resources haven’t gone to waste is an obvious priority for business leaders, but with a little research and willingness to think differently, promoting creativity in the workplace can help businesses reap some some great rewards.

Creativity in the business world

In 2015, the creative industries were worth $698 billion to the US economy, and accounted for 4.7 million jobs. But as savvy business leaders already know, creative thinking can make a difference in all sorts of sectors, and goes far beyond the arts and marketing.

The key is to create an environment where employees have the freedom and room to think. While clearly defined job roles are vital to any organisation, people don’t like to feel limited and overlooked. By making it clear that their ideas are valued and there isn’t a “my way or the highway” attitude pervading your business, staff are very likely to be happier in their roles – and happier staff tend to work harder.

So how do you help employees use their imagination? Here are a few ways to get their creative juices flowing.

Think about office surroundings

The trend for forward-thinking corporations designing trendy, “fun” workspaces has become so visible that it’s almost a cliché, with a certain global search engine being particularly famous for bright colours, self-conscious quirk, and Segways. If done badly, trying to inject a bit of life into a workplace can come across as a little gimmicky, but it is genuinely important to consider the environment your employees are working in.

You can encourage a creative atmosphere by allowing your staff free reign over their own space – short of undergoing major renovations, of course. With some guidance and curation (the level of this will depend of how “customer-facing” a space happens to be), allowing multiple people to make an impact on how an environment looks can create an eclectic and exciting backdrop that promotes originality.

For example, you could allocate one wall and cover it in cork, allowing people to pin their ideas, favourite pictures, motivational quotes and even little doodles. Don’t just go for “office space” art, but hang the work you genuinely like, with input from those around you. Check out Pinterest for workspace inspiration, and make sure you have a relaxing communal area where people can chat and confer. Furthermore, get a bookshelf that people can peruse at their leisure when they’re on their breaks, as well as lots of pens, pencils and paper so they can draw or write if they choose to.

Give everyone in the organisation room to come up with new ideas

It makes sense that you give the “creatives” the most leeway to follow their own ideas, but you should also allow for creative thought in every member of your organisation. While you are responsible for the final decisions, it’s the people who do their job every day who will have the most insight; being able to identify any kinks in the process, see how work could be streamlined, and come up with interesting ideas about how to do things differently.

Make sure everyone knows that if they’ve had a lightbulb moment, that they will be listened to. Just because it isn’t necessarily someone’s job to come up with new ideas, or they aren’t in a management position, doesn’t mean they can’t see how work could be completed more efficiently. Many companies miss out on the natural talent and perceptivity of many members of their staff, because they don’t consider that they might have something valuable to contribute outside of their job role.

Prioritize corporate wellbeing

People who are stressed, unhappy, or burnt-out don’t tend to make the most creative workers. Being under constant pressure often stymies people’s imaginative side, because it’s all they can do to keep their head above water. Furthermore, stress inhibits activity in the prefrontal cortex of our brains – which helps people do all the important things like problem solving, higher thinking and communication – so we are more driven by our fears and worries, and at the mercy of our emotions.

None is this is ideal if you want to promote a creative environment, so ensuring your company culture is one that prioritizes employee wellbeing is very important. It also has added advantages in reducing employee turnover and lessening absenteeism. Whether it’s implementing a stress-busting meditation program, allowing flexible hours or carefully managing workloads, helping staff lower their stress is a key part of making them more creative.

Reward great ideas

As well as making sure you create an environment where people feel they can express their ideas, you also need to assure that they are properly recognised for them. If someone has contributed to a big success, they may feel annoyed if they don’t get to share in any reward, or congratulated on their innovative thinking.

Additionally, you need to make sure quieter members of staff don’t get steamrolled. Listen carefully in meetings, to see who actually originates the best ideas. Unfortunately, it’s part of most office cultures that the most extroverted and loudest will be heard first – even if they aren’t necessarily the most capable. For example, someone with an introvert personality may say something discerning and brilliant in a meeting, but get overlooked. Then a more confident member of staff essentially repeats what they’ve already said, but to great applause.

In this situation, you could say something tactful like “I’m so pleased you agree with what so-and-so said earlier, I also think s/he’s hit the nail on the head!”, so no one feels sidelined and gives up on adding their input.

By taking the steps needed to bring out your employee’s creative side, and ensuring they are properly credited for their work, everyone will benefit from a happier, interesting and more successful workplace.

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