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This page was published on 18/01/2005
Published: 18/01/2005

   Science & business

Last Update: 18-01-2005  
Related category(ies):
Innovation  |  Human resources & mobility  |  Science & business  |  Information society

 

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Studies link learning and motivation to business innovation and performance

The perennial challenge of how to stimulate and motivate personnel raised its head again at a recent conference in the UK on occupational psychology. One study, in particular, pointed out the link between investment in learning and the level of innovation in companies, while another reversed the thinking about lost productivity due to e-mail interruptions.

Answering e-mails is like a welcome break from boring or stressful work tasks. © PhotoDisc
Answering e-mails is like a welcome break from boring or stressful work tasks.
© PhotoDisc
Companies that invest in learning produce more innovative products and services, and they report better financial performance, according to research presented at a recent occupational psychology conference organised by the British Psychological Society (BPS).

Kamal Birdi and colleagues at the Centre for Organisation and Innovation, Institute of Work Psychology, University of Sheffield, based this finding on a study of 335 UK businesses from a range of sectors, including manufacturing, financial services, transport and communication, and health and social work. They found that those enterprises investing in organisational learning – the way a company generates, shares and stores knowledge about itself – created more innovative products or services, and more innovative ways of working which also reflected on their financial results.

Organisational learning breeds innovation because generating information – for example, by talking to customers, interacting with other organisations or questioning employees – can help to identify the need for new services or products, the team explains. Sharing this knowledge, by using e-mail or formal procedures, can highlight opportunities and stimulate new ideas among staff. While storing this information, via databases or company manuals, helps develop ideas by recording previous best practice, the study points out.

“[Our] study implies that organisations should actively devote attention to finding new and better ways of working, as well as developing novel products or services. It also suggests that starting knowledge-generating activities, such as learning networks with other organisations, or beginning internal knowledge sharing activities, like regular departmental or team briefings, can help,” notes Birdi.

Take an e-mail break
In a related study presented at the BPS conference on 13 January, researchers from the University of Surrey's Department of Psychology (UK), concluded that e-mail can be good for workers' mental well-being and overall effectiveness, which contradicts opinions that it disrupts work and hinders productivity.

Taking a short break from stressful or boring tasks to read e-mail helps to reduce stress or boredom, and employees can resume their task with increased energy and vigilance, the researchers say, after carrying out one-to-one interviews with employees at a range of UK organisations. The employees were asked about their use of e-mail and how they dealt with e-mail interruptions.

These findings challenge earlier research which claimed interruptions in the workplace are often disruptive, as tasks would take longer to finish and be full of mistakes. Surrey's Emma Russell says e-mail interruptions are here to stay and that it is unrealistic to try to avoid them when they can, in fact, be helping to motivate people.

The current studies both hint at the relationship between making workplaces a stimulating and learning environment and the resulting improvements in worker satisfaction and productivity. Knowledge-creation and innovation are also important objectives at the EU level, underpinning the Lisbon Strategy put forward by leaders during the European Council Summit in the Portuguese city, in 2000, which calls for Europe to become a world-beating knowledge society.

The European Commission's statistical office, Eurostat, also conducts surveys of the level of innovation in business across the Union. One such study is available on the website mentioned in the ‘More information' section.   

British Psychological Society

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See also

British Psychological Society

Lisbon Strategy

Survey on innovation in EU enterprises (Eurostat, 26 October 2004)


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