Problems at work? Research says, take a holiday

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Hello everyone. Janina here, filling in for Isabel and Sophia.

On the Work and Careers team we love corporate branded goodies — just today I spied a fellow worker at our coffee bar who had a rather nice FT branded glass beaker. I have been doing some serious research into the topic for an article and it seems that merch matters — company swag is on the ascendancy.

Hybrid and remote work has forced companies to focus more on the onboarding process to enhance new employees’ feeling of belonging — and on reminding existing employees that they care. Many are doing this by sending out boxes full of high-end goodies, from stainless steel water bottles and artisan coffee, to portable phone chargers and smart notebooks.

It’s also a clever way to promote a company’s brand — and in part, its culture — to outsiders, whether on social media or in real life.

Sustainability is also being considered. The cheap pens and other tat often end up in landfill — and how many tote bags do you have stuffed in a cupboard? But with a more “curated” approach to welcome packs, containing long-lasting items that have been carefully designed, swag is more likely to be used, even after the recipient has left a company. Companies are making T-shirts, sweatshirts and backpacks more desirable by selecting better materials, making logos more subtle, or customising items from coveted brands, such as the North Face, the outdoor clothing maker.

I would love to hear about the top-notch corporate merch you have received. Or perhaps you feel your company is missing a trick as it continues to dish out second rate goods . . . or possibly nothing at all. We want pictures too.

Let us know at [email protected] (Janina Conboye)

Join us Saturday, September 3 at the FTWeekend Festival, for a day of debates, tastings, performances and more. Hear from speakers including Great British Bake-Off winner Nadiya Hussain, MP and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Ukrainian chef Olia Hercules and psychotherapist Esther Perel. Claim £20 off your festival pass using promo code FTWFxNewsletters.

How holidays help our creative thinking

© FT montage/Unsplash/Getty

Holiday season is upon us. As hordes of travellers head for the beach (or wherever your preferred destination), I wondered what this time off can really do to improve our creative thinking?

Arguably, it feeds into productivity, but it is different from it: creativity is about having space to think and develop new ideas.

Two academics at Norway’s University of Stavanger suggested in 2018 there was emerging evidence that factors such as psychological detachment and physical distance are extremely beneficial and help us find new ways to solve old problems.

Psychological detachment, say associate professors Lukasz Andrzej Derdowski and Gro Ellen Mathisen, allows for “incubation”, a process that occurs when attention is diverted away from a task. “Leaving job problems behind while enjoying a holiday may facilitate a cognitive break that in fact helps solve the problems when turning back to work.”

They also cite physical distance as a benefit: “When we find ourselves physically near the source of the problem, our thoughts can be automatically constricted.” However, when travelling, “our mind shifts into an expansive kind of cognition where previously suppressed creative ideas to yet unresolved problems can now reach the ‘surface’ of awareness,” they write.

Tapping my LinkedIn community, it seems unfamiliar environments can help us see things in an entirely new way. In response to a callout, Gregor Hollerin says that when he started Story Shop, a PR and marketing agency based in Scotland, he took almost no time off. The result? He felt his creativity was “slowly diminishing”.

Last month he took a week off, his first with his one-year-old. By being abroad, and looking at things through the eyes of his son, he had a completely different take on things. “When you take a break you connect dots in different ways,” he adds.

Alexandra Foster, director of manufacturing, digital industries and financial services at telecommunications group BT, responded by saying that the break from work gives the opportunity to “reflect on my current situation, reset for the year . . . and find new ways to approach old challenges”.

One co-founder and chief executive emailed me about their “mini solo holidays”, usually in Europe, where they find somewhere with a nice view and a desk, and go exploring by bike. “It’s during this time . . . with no agenda that the best ideas are born,” he says.

These experiences also correspond with research by Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düzel, who found that novelty motivates the brain to explore. However, it is worth noting that other research on how holidays influence creativity found that while they increased the chances of creative insights, it is not guaranteed an original idea will come to mind.

Meanwhile, amid talent shortages, it seems more employers are granting prolonged headspace in the form of sabbaticals.

And what about those, like me, who remain at work throughout August? I can’t speak for others, but while I may not be getting my dose of novelty, there are benefits.

Personally, my editing and writing workload remain pretty constant. But the deluge of emails and meetings tends to subside. This leaves me more time to go through the research, case studies and other relevant Work and Careers titbits to foster new ideas. It is, of course, always important to allocate regular calendar time to do this, but during August, it’s just that much easier. (Janina Conboye)

Has a holiday helped you think more creatively? Let us know in this week’s poll.

Listen in: how to manage cost of living rises

This week on the Working It podcast, we examine the effects of the fast-rising cost of living. What can employers do to help staff who are struggling? I talk to FT colleagues Delphine Strauss and Emma Jacobs about the companies that are offering debt help and financial advice, and we discuss pay rises and industrial action. One of the long-term consequences of hikes in rail fares and energy prices is that it could stall the return to the office in September — might your employer soon be offering subsidies to get you to come into work?

Next week, we turn to the art of the graceful exit from work. With record numbers of people leaving their jobs, what’s the best way to tell your bosses you are going — while perhaps leaving the door open for a “boomerang” return? Our (returning) guest is the communications expert Erica Dhawan, who tells us what — and what not — to do. (Isabel Berwick)

Elsewhere in the world of work:

  1. A hotter planet will expose divides in the world of work: Amid the heatwaves across the globe, the FT’s Sarah O’Connor looks at how climate change brings risks to health and safety and productivity, and employers need to adapt.

  2. Generation Z — how to recruit and retain them: The old rules no-longer apply as today’s graduates expect a conversation rather than an interview, they ask challenging questions around the environment and sustainability, and want jobs with a wider purpose.

  3. How should we deal with opposing political views in the workplace? As the world becomes more polarised, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson explores how managers can meet the challenge with sensitivity and a commitment to diversity.

  4. It’s time to talk about the menopause . . . In many workplaces, awareness of the topic has soared — but the FT’s Emma Jacobs wonders if the menopause is too often a smokescreen for ageism.

  5. The artisan refugees carving out a future: A growing trade in homewares by displaced makers helps preserve traditional craftsmanship — and provides much-needed income.

Each fortnight, a reader poses a career question to our expert Jonathan Black. The latest candidate wonders if it is possible to sidestep into television presenting from work in climate and development research and strategy. Jonathan’s response will be published next week, but we always encourage readers to offer their advice.

We’ve already had dozens of responses. Reader makemineatea suggests developing skills as a pundit:

Focus on your climate and development skills and start offering yourself around as an expert. Start local because you could find yourself very nervous and you wouldn’t want that to be your first network experience. Who do you know in your field who is a regular pundit? Ask them for help and advice.

Northwold suggests a likely route is via journalism:

One avenue in — indeed, the obvious one — is journalism. There is a scarcity of science journalists. Consider doing a full journalism course. Or ask business outlets whether they have need for science writers and use every opportunity to wangle your way over to the visual side once there.

Dutch Paul advises building a social media presence:

Focus on social media and build your audience. YouTube is the easiest one for setting up a channel and reaching a wide audience and would allow you to present and interview. Via social media you will build a valuable skill set — video talking heads, interviews, video and audio editing.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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