Art and Employee Wellbeing


Purposeful Creative Activity

Art Marman, Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and editor of the Journal Cognitive Science, recently wrote an interesting piece in the Harvard Business Review on The illusion of exploratory depth or unexpected gaps in our knowledge – things we are sure we know or understand, but when it comes down to the crunch – have little idea. He goes on to explain the detrimental challenges this lack of real understanding can have on business, where everyone nods politely and knowingly, but actually have vastly differing ideas – if any, of what the concept or term at hand actually means.

Marman goes on to add, “no matter the scale, discovering your explanatory gaps is essential for aspiring innovators. An undiagnosed gap in knowledge means you might not fully understand a problem. That can hinder innovative solutions.”

But what happens when diagnosing gaps in employee understanding begins to look like a time consuming occupation or even worse – embarrassing for those who might be expected to show what they don’t know?

An interesting strategy that can ensure valuable business time is not wasted on misconstrued or non-existent beliefs is to use Purposeful Creative Activity (PCA); a process where drawn images and clear directives are used to meet goal directive objectives. PCA provides a flexible and diverse communication tool that can be used to share, process or clarify work-related issues. The visual nature of the activity allows topics to be made ‘concrete’ so they can be collectively seen, explored and understood.  Not only does the process augment verbal language, the images can also be used to trigger unconsciously held connections and insights.

Providing a very simple PCA directive such as ‘draw how you see the term ‘streamlined’ (the example used by Marman) allows employees to focus of the aspects of the term they understand without over-exposing themselves to highlight aspects that they don’t. Also, because images operate on an unconscious level they provide a communication tool that can be more memorable than words alone and enables the term to be ‘imprinted’ on both verbal and visual levels – and therefore more easily recalled.

Instead of an activity that diagnoses gaps in knowledge (an approach clearly ensconced in the medical/illness model of intervention), PCA proactively facilitates an activity which instead introduces a more positive ‘what we know collectively’ approach. Gaps in knowledge are quickly transformed with an approach that is not only enjoyable for participants, but also time effective and efficient.

 

Supporting Employee Wellbeing through Creativity

 


Using Purposeful Creative Activity (PCA) to support Collaborative Employee Learning

Art Marman, Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and editor of the Journal Cognitive Science, recently wrote an interesting piece in the Harvard Business Review on The illusion of exploratory depth or unexpected gaps in our knowledge – things we are sure we know or understand, but when it comes down to the crunch – have little idea. He goes on to explain the detrimental challenges this lack of real understanding can have on business, where everyone nods politely and knowingly but actually have vastly differing ideas – if any, of what the concept or term at hand actually means.

Marman  adds, “no matter the scale, discovering your explanatory gaps is essential for aspiring innovators. An undiagnosed gap in knowledge means you might not fully understand a problem. That can hinder innovative solutions.”

But what happens when diagnosing gaps in employee understanding begins to look like a time consuming occupation or even worse – embarrassing for those who might be expected to show what they don’t know?

An interesting strategy that can ensure valuable business time is not wasted on misconstrued or non-existent beliefs is to use Purposeful Creative Activity (PCA); a process where drawn images and clear directives are used to meet goal directive objectives. PCA provides a flexible and diverse communication tool that can be used to share, process or clarify work-related issues. The visual nature of the activity allows topics to be made ‘concrete’ so they can be collectively seen, explored and understood.  Not only does the process augment verbal language, the images can also be used to trigger unconsciously held connections and insights.

Providing a very simple PCA directive such as ‘draw how you see the term ‘streamlined’ (the example used by Marman) allows employees to focus of the aspects of the term they understand without over-exposing themselves to highlight aspects that they don’t. Also, because images operate on an unconscious level they provide a communication tools that can be more memorable than words, while enabling the term to be ‘imprinted’ both verbal and visual levels and therefore more easily recalled.

Instead of an activity that diagnoses gaps in knowledge (an approach clearly ensconced in the medical/illness model of intervention), PCA proactively facilitates an activity which instead introduces a more positive ‘what we know collectively’ approach. Gaps in knowledge are quickly transformed with an approach that is not only enjoyable for participants, but also time effective and efficient.

 


Employee wellbeing – Using images to transform feelings of failure and stress

As a generalizable experience, the positive transformation of failure to build resilience is something that can easily be embraced in art. In our own work we find that art making provides an effective microcosm where individuals can make mistakes and work through them without the ‘big risk’. It sort of piggy backs on Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory as successful triumphs are ‘banked’ to be drawn upon at a later time. For example if you can work through the frustration or challenge of a drawing, even the accident of spilling your paint across the page – the ability to accept and move beyond challenges becomes something that your personal experience says ‘you can do’ – not just in art, but in other areas of your life.  The added beauty of using art making to support resilience and wellbeing is that while engaged in a creative challenge we often move into what Csíkszentmihályi, describes as flow, a state where we are mindfully and positively in the present and not stressing about past or future.

The application of art-based techniques to support wellbeing are in fact endless. At work, using directives such as ‘draw your role in relation to the team’ provides a concrete  visual vehicle that can instigate discussion, understanding and awareness. In a group, images provide a means through which everyone can ‘see’ where every one else ‘is’ and because the medium is visual it is more memorable than words alone. Even stress producing issues like role clarification can be swiftly nailed down by using arts-based visuals. Asking employees to render their roles visually can be used to identify which areas of work they find most rewarding and most challenging, where they might need help and how they might be directed to succeed. In fact research has shown that drawing pictures of work-based stressors and transforming them into less stressful images can have a positive impact on our perception of stress, by diffusing it into something we perceive as more manageable.

 

 

 


The benefits of the mental well-being at work ‘booster’

Yesterday I received assessor feedback on my dissertation recommending that I publish my results on my recent thesis. It’s interesting to consider the  impact that positive feedback can have on us. Today I am at my computer, reconnecting with this project when yesterday I was quite happy to prep my bedroom for painting. While doing my research one of the studies that stood out in my mind looked at the impact of a vacation on the mental well-being of workers. It suggested that for three weeks post-vacation workers were on a productive/ positive wave, yet after those three weeks they returned to baseline. Today on Radio 4, I also listened to two women authors who spoke of their sense of dejection rather than elation when a novel was finally finished – a project vacuum emptiness of ‘well…now what do I do?’ Together these thoughts made me think about ‘well-being at work programmes’, the overall costs of running programmes, the potential dis-elation when they finish. It seems to me that ‘booster session’ (as evidence by my own renewed interest and focus as a result of external feed-back) to re-energise our engagement may be all we need, not a daily rah-rah- rah, but just a slow, regular drip from the positive re-enforcement intravenous…

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Mental Wellbeing in the workplace. What evidence supports a role for art therapy as an effective intervention?

Abstract:

Mental well-being in the workplace is an issue of increasing government, organisational and business interest as the social and economic costs of challenges to mental well-being are increasingly recognised.  Supporting mental well-being in the workplace is, however, a complex intervention challenge. In contrast to the illness-model approach of previous stress-based interventions, new research suggests that proactive, wellness modelled interventions provide a more appropriate solution for the support and enhancement of employee mental well-being.

In response to the need to identify intervention approaches which can proactively and successfully respond to this multi-faceted issue, the objective of this research was to identify what evidence supports art therapy as an effective mental well-being in the workplace intervention.

To achieve this objective, this study employed a thematic analysis of primary research on mental well-being in the workplace and art therapy interventions with adult, non-clinical populations. The research captured evidence from a wide range of both qualitative and quantitative studies to reflect the ‘meaningfulness’ that is criticised for being lost by traditional systematic reviews. By synthesising themes between studies, this research identified the characteristics that support and challenge both employee mental well-being and intervention success.

A logic model was also designed and used to illustrate the findings of the research.

The first hypothesis, that art therapy is a sufficiently flexible intervention to respond to the complex mental-wellbeing needs of work-place populations was partially supported by the findings of the study. The second hypothesis, that art therapy is a sufficiently flexible technique to approach well-being from a proactive-wellness model of intervention was supported by the findings.

The findings indicate a high level of cross-over between the characteristics of both art therapy interventions and successful individual-level mental well-being in the workplace interventions. These characteristics included providing interventions which are meaningful, empowering and enjoyable.

The findings of this research indicate support for art therapy as an effective individual-level, mental-well-being in the workplace intervention; highlighting areas of both efficacy and challenge. Although the results are promising, more field research is needed to explore the use of art therapy with workplace populations.