Fi Productive Thinking

The Relationship Between Pressure and Productive Thinking

Published by
20th July 2023

If you’re anything like the famous Mathematician Archimedes, you might find that you do some of your best brainstorming in the bathtub. And you wouldn’t be alone in this!

Last month, we conducted a poll on our LinkedIn page which sought to discover where employees were doing their most productive thinking.

It might be surprising to hear that 89% of respondents said that they had their most productive thoughts outside of their work office, with the responses ranging from their home offices, their morning showers, and even when they were walking the dogs!

There are many explanations for this; for example, there are studies that highlight a direct link between nature and wellbeing. Being in nature not only reduces feelings of anger, fear, and stress, but also contributes to your physical wellbeing too. Therefore, it might not actually be such a stretch to hear that people have some of their most productive and innovative thoughts when outside.

However, when I saw these results it got me thinking – is pressure, or even the implication of pressure, the root of the productive thinking problem?

An overwhelming amount of respondents are doing their most productive thinking outside of the work office – even though the work office is where employers hope that their staff are being most productive! And Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce Report reinforces this alarming notion, as only 23% of the global workforce are actively engaged at work.

What we’re seeing is that productive thinking is happening in places where there are not connotations of pressure and stress and where no interpersonal risks have to be taken. For instance, when brainstorming in person with fellow colleagues and managers, a person will be less likely to contribute an idea (even if it is a productive one) because of the fear of it not being thought out enough. Whereas in settings outside of the formal workplace, there is less pressure to contribute immediately, and this allows for time to assess different factors before pitching the idea.

So, how can employers reduce these feelings of pressure and access their team’s most productive thinking?

The first and most obvious suggestion is having flexible working policies. Most companies now offer some form of hybrid working, but it might be worth taking this one step further. If our most productive thinking is happening outside of the office, then why not take your team outside? Try working in some more ‘untraditional’ spaces, or creating a more untraditional space out of your office, to see what this might inspire.

The second suggestion is normalising dissent at work. If one barrier to productive thinking is the fear of seeming silly, then tackle this fear at its root. Strive to create a psychologically safe space in the office that encourages people to actively challenge ideas, and one that doesn’t punish anyone for contributing. This allows for more productive innovation to take place, and leads to some of the best creative thinking!

Lastly, it is important to recognise that a little bit of stress and pressure can actually be a good thing. Not only have studies proven that a little stress is interpreted by your body as a ‘survival strategy’ and therefore improves cellular health and longevity, but it can also be reframed as a drive to make someone want to be the best version of themselves. Managers should be coaching this reframed mindset so that their team can leverage feelings of stress. Some stress at a job is going to be inevitable, but it can be wielded to their advantage!

If you would like to discuss how we can help introduce policies around flexible working and shake things up to get people thinking more productively, please get in touch with us!

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