Over the last few years, productivity experts have touted the importance of work-life balance, or the idea that employees could only reach their full potential if they had enough time set aside for leisure and relaxation. But new research suggests that—thanks to what’s called a cognitive role transition—striving to maintain an enviable work-life balance can actually do more harm than good. It turns out we spend a lot of energy moving from domain (e.g., work) to domain (e.g., life) when we forced ourselves to do so.
More and more, it’s looking like the distinctions that came out of that old understanding are being washed away, too. That includes the assumption that there’s no room for art in a productive office environment; art enthusiasts and hobbyists have traditionally been encouraged to tackle their creative craft during the “life” part of the work-life balance equation.
But recent studies have proven, time and again, that art can have a profoundly positive impact on work productivity.
At a very basic level, colors in the workplace—whether the walls are painted blue or green—can change the way we perceive our environments thereby influencing our output or lack thereof. At a much more refined level, there are international juggernauts like Deutsche Bank, which has upwards of 60,000 pieces of art scattered on the walls and in the lobbies of its 900 offices around the world.
The role art plays in productivity
How exactly can art increase productivity across an organization?
For starters, art can have a profound impact on how an office environment is perceived. If you’re showing up to work every day to work in an office with naked white walls, odds are you won’t exactly be inspired to take your productivity to the next level. Instead, you’ll be bored out of your mind.
Put some pictures on the wall, and all of a sudden the place becomes livelier. You’re actually inspired to get things done. This is perhaps the reason why 82% of employees believe that the presence of art in their work environment is extremely important.
Art is also linked to unlocking the creative potential in all of us. When you stare at a painting or a photograph long enough, the stimulation will help re-jig how you think about all sorts of things. Stare at a gray-colored wall all day, and your mind may wander to some pretty dark places.
Additionally, art can help clients, customers, and even prospective candidates for job openings feel more at home in unfamiliar environments. The right art positioned in the right place can become a great conversation starter, too, which in turn can help employees develop better bonds with one another.
Having physical art in your office can make workers more productive. But the act of physically creating art has a number of work-related benefits, too.
Painting: Your next team-building activity
Creating art ourselves teaches us to be okay with failure. You won’t always paint a masterpiece, after all. It also teaches us that, through practice, we can become better and better at what we do. If you haven’t drawn or painted anything since grade school, you’re not going to step to the canvas and paint The Starry Night right away. But if you stick with it, you’ll notice that your skills begin to sharpen the more time you spend on the craft. Just ask former President George W. Bush.
Since the benefits of art speak for themselves, head to the nearest paintbar—or see whether you can bring the experience to your own office—when you’re planning your next team-building activity. In addition to simply being a unique experience that makes people happy, research suggests that our brains release dopamine (the “fun” brain chemical) when we are creating things. In turn, we become more driven and more focused and we can concentrate more effectively.
What’s more, one study found that doodling (or painting) can help us become better at grasping new concepts and solving problems. Art helps us understand the world around us in different ways. It also helps us understand abstract ideas. Because everyone sees everything differently, team art activities can help strengthen collaboration skills while encouraging employees to learn to look at things from different perspectives.
You probably won’t turn into the next Salvador Dali — maybe that’s good news for the rest of the office—but you’ll never know until you try. Still, learning how to draw and paint, then forcing yourself to do it regularly, will almost certainly make you a more productive and effective worker.
And if you don’t have any interest in producing art on your own, you can still benefit from putting artwork all around your office or work environment. Lively up your workspace and unlock your full creative potential. It’s actually as easy as it sounds.