As expected, heavy workloads tended to reduce innovative behaviour. However, the
reduction was smaller where employees worked together in harmony and shared their
Companies like Google and 3M encourage employees to spend part of their workweek on projects of their own choice. The firms realize that entrepreneurial workers often discover new products and processes.
But employees elsewhere may not have this flexibility. In some firms, workers feel stressed by heavy workloads that leave little free time. In others, office politics may discourage employees from starting new initiatives.
Professor Dirk De Clercq thought that good working relationships might enable employees to innovate despite such obstacles. He and his co-authors surveyed 707 employees and their supervisors in a private logistics firm. The survey asked about innovation and working conditions in their departments.
As expected, heavy workloads tended to reduce innovative behaviour. However, the reduction was smaller where employees worked together in harmony and shared their knowledge.
Organizational politics had more complex effects. In departments where employees had poor working relationships and didn’t share ideas, more politics meant less innovation. Political distractions seemed to make a bad situation worse.
However, the opposite was true where employees got along well and pooled their knowledge.There, increased politics meant increased innovation. Political activity seemed to support innovation among people with good relationships.
These results suggest that managers need to create supportive environments for their employees. Harmonious relations and open knowledge-sharing can partially counteract workplace time pressures. They can also make office politics work in favour of innovation instead of against it.
Dirk De Clercq is a professor of management. He received his PhD in Business Administration from the University of Minnesota. His current research interests include entrepreneurship, innovation and social exchange relationships. He teaches entrepreneurship and research methodology and is the 2014 recipient of the Distinguished Researcher of the Year Award for the Goodman School of Business.
De Clercq, D., Dimov, D., & Belausteguigoitia, I. (2016). Perceptions of Adverse Work Conditions and Innovative Behavior: The Buffering Roles of Relational Resources. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 40(3), 515–542.