Employee Creativity at Work when Coping with Life Trauma: The Importance of Organizational Practices

Professor Feirong Yuan discusses the impacts of creativity at work and answers questions about her paper, “Sensemaking and Creativity at Work When Employees are Coping with Traumatic Life Experiences: Implications for Positive Organizational Change,” published in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.

What motivated you to pursue this research?

The initial motivation for this research stems from my own experience of a traumatic event in personal life. I was fortunate to have received social support from several colleagues which made it possible for me to sustain the motivation and ability to continue writing and research. This experience inspired me to research conditions that can lead individuals to continue demonstrating creativity at work when they are coping with traumatic incidents in a different area of life. I was also motivated to pursue this research because I observed examples of other professionals who remained resilient and continued to produce creative work when they were coping with life traumas. For example, many doctors, nurses, teachers, and other professionals came up with innovative solutions to help patients, students, and the public during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

The prolonged experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and several other traumatizing social-economic situations further strengthened my decision to pursue this research. Because traumatic conditions such as these can last a long time, it is important for organizations to understand how to support their employees in these life situations. I believe that businesses and organizations can play a part in helping their employees respond to these events in a constructive way, and they can also learn from the many great insights employees may bring to work because of these life experiences. Given the widespread impact of these traumatic incidents, understanding these positive organizational practices should be important for all organizations.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

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This research calls attention to workplace creativity as a possible constructive response when individuals are coping with traumatic life situations. The psychological processes and individual and social conditions examined in this paper provide directions for future studies to test specific mechanisms that can support these responses.

Another innovative aspect of this research is its emphasis on organizational practices. This focus is relatively new and I hope that it can encourage researchers and business managers to think about resilience and extraordinary creative performance during trauma as a socially embedded phenomenon rather than the acts of a few unique individuals.

This research is also innovative in that it examines the implications of this type of creativity for individual and organizational development. In addition to the possibility of leading to innovative products and services, this type of creativity can also exert a positive and long-term impact on employees’ development of a resilient self-concept and an organization’s development of a constructive social discourse on resilience and creativity.

I hope that the framework outlined in this paper can help organizational leaders find some directions to support, respect, and empower their organizational members when they are coping with traumatic life situations.

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Feirong Yuan

Feirong Yuan is an assistant professor of management at University of Houston, Victoria. Her research focuses on individual motivation, interpersonal processes and cross-culture issues related to employee creativity and innovation.

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