How to promote innovation at work?

Dani Pärnänen, May 11, 2018

Innovative people recognize problems, come up with solutions, and follow through with putting those ideas into practice. How can such highly valued behavior be promoted at work? A recent study identified key factors relating to innovativeness from a survey of nearly 13 000 employees in 27 EU states.

The study found that innovation seems to happen most often where innovation is needed. For example, when employees have to deal with unforeseen challenges, problems or circumstances or when their tasks are complex.

Having a deadline may also promote innovative thinking and lead to increased productivity (or meeting the deadlines), but only if there is enough time to put the ideas into action. These kinds of factors are examples of how resources (e.g. enough time) or demands (e.g. strict deadlines) may affect innovativeness. The study suggests that the characteristics of job design are important not only for the well-being of employees but also for innovativeness

Innovative behavior can be promoted by encouragement and autonomy

From the factors analyzed in the study, the most positive impacts were associated with autonomy and encouragement received from colleagues and managers. They seem to lead to more idea generation and implementation, which are the cornerstones of innovative behavior.

Employees who enjoyed greater autonomy were more than twice as much engaged in idea generation and four times as much engaged in implementing innovative ideas in their work. Similarly, employees that were encouraged by managers were three times as likely to engage in idea generation and twice as likely to engage in idea implementation.

Monotony and hurry will hinder innovativeness

Innovation can be seen as a process that starts when the employee recognizes a new potential problem and tries to come up with solutions to address it. The process of innovation comes to its end only after the ideas are put into practice. At work, certain critical factors may affect both of these stages.

What seems to most hinder innovative behavior at work are monotonous nature of tasks and working at high speeds. Interestingly, the researchers found that working under tight deadlines might increase innovativeness a bit, but continuing to work at high speeds might be detrimental to implementing those ideas.

A recipe for innovation: autonomy, encouragement, variety of tasks, and enough time

The researchers of the study suggest that increasing specific resources and carefully managing certain demands can be used to promote and protect innovativeness in the workplace. They argue that the most innovation-friendly jobs are flexible and adaptable to changing requirements of the innovative process.

Employees also need to have sufficient challenges and variety in their tasks to spark the innovative ideas. Enough autonomy should be granted for employees to perform their tasks and responsibilities in innovative ways. A social resource in the form of support and encouragement from managers and colleagues will promote both ideation and implementation.

Key takeaways for promoting innovative work behavior

  • Increase autonomy to enable people to perform and innovate.

  • Offer encouragement and support to promote both idea generation and implementation.

  • Ensure variety of tasks to avoid monotony and to offer enough exciting and multifaceted challenges.

  • Provide enough time for following through and putting innovative ideas into practice.

Background

This article is based on a journal article published early 2018. In their study, PhD researcher Vlad Dediua, Professor Stavroula Leka, and Dr Aditya Jain from Nottingham University evaluated the relationship between innovative behavior at work and factors such as job resources, job demands, and other qualities and features of work. The study was based on a survey of nearly 13 000 employees from 27 European Union member states (5th European Working Conditions Survey conducted in 2010). The innovative behaviors assessed in the study were found to be in line with the EU country ranking of innovativeness (European Innovation Scoreboard).

Sources

Vlad Dediu, Stavroula Leka & Aditya Jain (2018) Job demands, job resources and innovative work behaviour: a European Union study, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 27:3, 310-323, DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2018.1444604

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