The arts have long been recognized for their power to heal, provide calm during a storm, and keep the mental clouds at bay, and they may be just the mental break from routine your team needs to clear their minds of the suffocating strategic, financial, and operational demands that are part and parcel of organizational life.
Art is more than aesthetic. It has a positive–and powerful–physiological impact on the brain. Fine and performing arts have been used in health care programs around the world to help reduce blood pressure while improving one’s focus and outlook on their job or about life in general.
As your organization’s CEO, bringing art into the workplace is one way that you can improve the well-being of your own team, and your entire organization.
Art will help your team look at something with a different perspective by stimulating creativity and thoughtful observation. Art can combat tunnel vision, and help make a cold, sterile work environment feel more inspiring.
Steelcase, the global leader in office furniture, has long understood the interrelationships among art forms, design, functionality, creativity, and workplace efficiency. If you ever want to see one of the most effective blends of art, architecture, and business success, visit the Steelcase corporate headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The entire business environment delights the senses and heightens the desire for discovery. Robert Pew, the former board chairman of Steelcase, felt so strongly about the impact of art that, during the construction of Steelcase’s new corporate headquarters in the 1980s, he oversaw the acquisition of hundreds of pieces of art to be integrated into the building’s design. The works–including those of James Rosati, Dale Chihuly, and Andy Warhol–remain with the organization and are exhibited in the company’s offices around the globe.
This is no big shock, considering that Pew and his partner Frank Merlotti, Sr., the former president and CEO, were leaders who believed in–and practiced–humility, generosity to their employees, and being a team player while delivering quality and value to customers.
While you can undoubtedly think of others, here are five suggestions for integrating the arts into your own workplace:
The Nordstrom department stores were once well known for their pianist-in-residence. The pianist was there for the benefit of customers, but associates benefited just as much.
Take a cue and install a music system for the lunchroom or a conference room and set up a good playlist to run. Ask your team what type of music they prefer and incorporate their ideas. Some executives may like classical music while others prefer jazz or rock. Choose a selection that will appeal to all so that your team and their teams can enjoy some music during their workday or lunch hour. The result will be a more relaxed and refreshed team–and that translates into more effective problem-solving.
If you have the funds, consult a landscape expert to create a soothing Zen garden–or better yet, ask employees for their own ideas. Be sure to include tables, chairs and benches so people can enjoy their lunch there.
Don’t have any outdoor space? Transform a patio or the lunchroom with beautiful plants, potted trees, and flowers. Place plants throughout the workplace. Add statuary from the local garden store and a water feature like a fountain. The result will be a calmer team, better able to focus. And don’t be surprised if they start meeting regularly in the newly installed garden.
Consult a local gallery owner or artist to help bring in paintings, sculptures, professional photography or other pieces of art for display the way many hospitals do. If you don’t have the budget to purchase pieces, invite local artists, art students, or even employees to display their works on a rotating basis in the hallways at your place of work. Chances are the artists will be thrilled: you get a rotating gallery and they get free exposure; it’s a win-win for all.
You can also ask a local foundation or art school to help you acquire donated art. The result will be a less-sterile environment that will inspire your team, and may even elicit conversations between team members viewing the art–conversations that wouldn’t have otherwise taken place.
Try a dance troupe or a play. Check the local newspaper listings or go online to find a production that fits everyone’s schedule and make a day of it. Even if some team members complain that they can’t afford the time away from the office, I assure you that everyone will appreciate the break and come back refreshed and ready to problem solve.
Go to a local museum, art gallery, or arboretum. Keep the meeting to a few hours and allow everyone to enjoy the venue afterward. The off-site setting alone will reduce anxiety and encourage people to participate more than they would have back at the office. Without office distractions and surrounded by an inspiring setting, chances are they’ll contribute more.
Business is inherently stressful, especially for those in leadership positions. Merlotti believed that office environments either promote mental health and sustained competitive excellence or deprived workers of both. He taught me that chief executives must monitor their teams for burnout and mental malaise–in fact, Merlotti insisted his own team always take their full vacation time for renewal purposes. Bringing in the beauty, splendor, and restorative power of the arts is certainly worth the return you’ll see on your investment.
—Ritch Eich is president of Eich Associated, is a retired captain, U.S. Naval Reserve who commanded three naval reserve units and served in NATO, JCS, Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. He is the author of Real Leaders Don’t Boss (2012) and Leadership Requires Extra Innings (2013). He has a Ph.D in organizational behavior and communication.