Ambivalent Employees More Creative, Study Suggests

Attention bosses: Your most innovative employees may be the ones with mixed emotions.

Ambivalence, a state of dual emotions, may promote more creativity in workers than solely positive or negative emotions, according to a study published in the current issue of the Academy of Management Journal.

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"Due to the complexity of many organizations, workplace experiences often elicit mixed emotions from employees, and it's often assumed that mixed emotions are bad for workers and companies," said Christina Ting Fong, of the University of Washington Business School and lead author of the study.

But an unusual or complex environment that elicits mixed emotions could cause a person to draw upon their creative thinking abilities, Fong said. Primarily happy or sad workers, or those who lack an emotional response, might not have this increased sensitivity for recognizing unusual associations.

"Rather than assuming ambivalence will lead to negative results for the organization, managers should recognize that emotional ambivalence can have positive consequences that can be leveraged for organizational success," Fong said.

Fong conducted two studies that tested the creative abilities of college students after invoking either feelings of happiness, sadness, neutrality or ambivalence. Emotional responses were achieved in one study by having the students write about an emotional experience and in another by watching a film clip.

Those who had ambivalent feelings performed better on a standardized creativity test, while no differences were found between happy, sad or neutral individuals.

Fong says that businesses can increase the creative output of their employees by maintaining an odd or novel work environment.