This article is part of the THNK VIEWS series. We bridge theory and practice on organizing imagination and innovation by extracting key implications and offering new insights to innovation practitioners. This article builds on the study Do Intelligent Leaders Make a Difference? The Effect of a Leader’s Emotional Intelligence on Followers’ Creativity by Francisca Castro, Jorge Gomes and Fernando C. de Sousa.
When Airbnb opened its first call center in December 2014, it was featured on headlines everywhere: finally, a call center that was not a hell to work at. “Picture a call center: rows and rows of gray cubicles, everyone donning headsets, sitting at their beige desks for hours on end […] Our landing spots work a little like cubbies for kindergarteners.” To create a happy, collaborative environment, Airbnb staffers were included in the design of the workplace, translating to shared desks, couches, and lots of use of natural materials and lightning —all fun and play.
It is hard to deny that the modern work environment is drastically changing, with playful offices like these becoming the new norm ever since Google, Facebook and others set a trend of informal and playful working environment in the hopes of boosting cultures of creativity and happiness at work. Initially exploring the effect of a leader’s emotional intelligence on followers’ creativity, Francisca Castro, Jorge Gomes, and Fernando C. de Sousa find that:
- Leader’s emotional intelligence and employee creativity are positively associated.
- Work environment does not act as a mediating factor between leadership and employee creativity.
- Instead, leaders play a paramount role in stimulating employee creativity.
Their findings suggest that work environment in and of itself does not make employees creative. This is not to say that space does not matter. Space matters a great deal in encouraging collaboration, social interactions, and creativity. But the current tendency of office transformation misses one vital point: you can give people a creative, happy playground space and atmosphere, but if the underlying culture, attitudes and support fail to facilitate creativity and innovation, having a table tennis table or an in-office slide is not going to give you the creativity you want. “Happy lunch hours do not make for happy workers”, as happiness expert Nic Marks recently put it.