Engage Employees by Tapping Into the Arts

Jonanne Tucker
Jonanne Tucker

person painting on canvas

The neat sculpture hanging behind your coworker spotted on your Zoom conference call. That guitar you bought years ago with the best of intentions but never learned to play. The silly dance intended to entertain a child in between homeschooling sessions.

Whether we realize it or not, we are surrounded by the arts. A broad term, the Oxford dictionary defines art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination… producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Expression. Creativity. Imagination. Emotion. From the visual to the auditory, art, at its root, encapsulates what it is to be human. So why is this important from an employee engagement perspective?

Dating as far back as 35,000 years ago, humans have been using art to express symbolic thought.

We have performed and created in times of tragedy and celebration alike. Art has entertained and inspired, pacified and ignited, healed and united.

This year has brought its fair share of catastrophe with the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many struggling to find solace in somber, tenuous times. In response, the world has seen renewed focus and dependence on the arts—not surprising, considering the significant benefits on our overall well-being.

Art Is Good for Our Bodies & Minds

Visual expression has been proven to activate the reward pathway in our brains and other aesthetic stimuli, such as music, releases positive neurotransmitters. The very processes of creating and experiencing art helps us explore our emotions, cope with stress and generally feel better about ourselves. Art has also been instrumental in healing a number of conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to PTSD, eating disorders and substance abuse.

In 2018, Americans for the Arts released one of the largest national public opinion surveys of American perceptions and attitudes toward the arts and revealed that 69% of the population believes the arts “lift them up beyond everyday experiences” and 81% believe the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world.” Simply put: Art heals.

Art Can Help Stave Off Feelings of Isolation

Even before quarantine measures were put into place, people were facing a loneliness epidemic. Social isolation these days is real and accompanied by a number of health and mental risks; a quick look at news headlines, however, prove that music and the arts have helped combat negativity.

From entertaining parodies to uplifting public performances, people have benefitted from the sense of comradery and unity offered by the arts. But this isn’t limited to the recent coronavirus outbreak; the aforementioned “Americans Speak Out About the Arts” poll also reported 73% stated the arts increased their understanding of other cultures and 74% believed the arts unified communities across all ages, races and ethnicities.

Art Boosts Productivity, Creativity & Innovation

If the above evidence wasn’t enough, the arts are good for business as well. According to experts, listening to music we enjoy can stimulate the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain devoted to planning, organizing, inhibition control and attention. By creating levels of dopamine and thereby stimulating this area of the brain, productivity is enhanced.

Visual art in the workplace can also have a similar effect. In fact, one study revealed offices enriched with art and plants yielded a 15% increase in employee efficiency (in addition to fewer health complaints)—and this percentage doubled for those who were allowed the freedom to arrange decorative elements themselves.

Lastly, exploring one’s creative tendencies encourages stronger problem-solving skills by learning from mistakes and evaluating personal processes (e.g., research found Nobel laureates in the sciences are significantly more likely to engage in the arts than their counterparts). 

The Benefits of Art Are Clear

In summary, the arts can make us healthier, happier and more engaged; combined with studies indicating happier employees are 13% more productive, there’s no questioning the benefits of increasing joy in the workplace. Factors leading to engagement and happiness are key in preventing employee burnout and resulting disengagement, the costs of which are considerable to organizations. It seems natural, then, to infuse elements of art, which is so integral and beneficial to all, into our everyday work lives. But how can this be done?

Start small—try implementing some of the following ideas:

office wall with artwork

1. Infuse visual art in the workplace: Fill your space with eye-catching visuals. From corporate to remote offices, adding customized splashes of color and/or design is a simple way to increase beauty and potential productivity. In the 2018 Americans for the Arts poll, 70% stated they enjoyed the arts in a “non-traditional” venue, such as spontaneous park performances and art displayed in hospitals, malls and airports. Your workspace can offer the same unexpected boost.

guitar lessons online

2. Host artistic Lunch & Learns: Engage employees within your company to provide virtual and/or in-person gatherings over the lunch hour featuring arts-related discussions, tutorials or even performances! Are there any amateur artists or musicians within your walls that can be tapped to share their talent? Is there anyone itching to teach a fun Pinterest craft? This is a great way to encourage employees’ non work-related interests while shaking up the monotony of just another work day.

special interest group dance lesson

3. Encourage personal interest groups and/or clubs: Similar to the above suggestion, unite people with similar passions. Meeting regularly with those interested in the same artistic (or non-artistic) interests will encourage connectedness and emphasize the importance of personal well-being outside office walls.  

volunteer sewing mask

4. Uncover volunteer opportunities: If your company offers time off to give back to the community, consider seeking opportunities that infuse artistic or creative elements (e.g., sewing blankets for homeless shelters, making holiday cards for organizations, musical performances at nursing homes). Not only will your employees benefit from the artistic benefits, but so will others!

man listening to work from home playlist

5. Offer themed playlists: Considering the ample benefits of music, try creating and offering a variety of playlists for your employees. No one genre has proven to be the most effective for increasing productivity; rather, what’s most important is that the music is enjoyable to the listener and not overly distracting in terms of lyrics or beat.

We have the potential to unlock additional physical and mental benefits through the simple act of encouraging the creation and experiencing the arts, which are sure to positively impact your company’s bottom line.

Pablo Picasso famously stated “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

The arts are fundamental to who we are as people, and the confines of our offices shouldn’t—and don’t have to—limit aesthetic creativity and delight.

Keep the positive impact to your employees going by jumping over to another arts-inspired post, 7 Employee Experience Lessons From Dr. Seuss, that dives into best practices for keeping organizations and individuals strong, aligned and engaged.

Jonanne Tucker

Jonanne Tucker

Jonanne has worked in Solution Development (aka, “the idea factory) at ITA Group for five years, eagerly designing the engaging, strategic solutions that inspire and motivate our clients’ employees, channel partners and customers. She graduated from Drake University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music and a minor in business studies. An Iowan native, Jonanne currently spends her free time with her family and her part-time career as a musician with the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra (playing the viola) and Iowa-based rock band, The Nadas (playing the viola and keyboard).