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Sunshine and buildings
Can sunlight improve innovation in the workplace?

Forget fancy offices and incredible perks in the workplace. If you want to be a true innovator, what you really need is sunshine. Deakin Business School’s Dr Edward Podolski uncovered this surprising finding when studying how human mood influences the economy.

To begin with, Dr Podolski started thinking about whether emotions play a role in corporate outcomes. ‘One of our challenges was to find an exogenous component of mood – something that influences mood but is otherwise independent of corporate outcomes,’ he says. Rather than looking to factors such as personal innovation achievements, Dr Podolski and his team looked instead to the weather.

Bright lights and light bulb moments

The best ideas often happen when we’re feeling optimistic. Dr Podolski points out that, ‘Inventors must produce inventions regardless of their mood, but their willingness to pursue creative ideas, as opposed to mundane and incremental innovations, will be influenced by their general level of optimism.’ His research shows that weather has a subtle but real effect on optimism, and therefore productivity and the economy.

But if your workplace isn’t in a sunny climate, you don’t necessarily need to pack up and move to Hamilton Island. According to Dr Podolski, companies can simply invest in employee mood. ‘What our study shows is that skilled employees in a better mood are more productive. So companies need to find ways of ensuring that employees are in as good a mood as possible,’ he says. There are many ways to boost mood, from empowering employees to investing in their wellbeing. ‘The general atmosphere of the workplace will influence mood. The investment that top executives make into employee wellbeing is therefore vitally important, especially for firms that rely on innovation to survive,’ Dr Podolski explains.

'What our study shows is that skilled employees in a better mood are more productive. So companies need to find ways of ensuring that employees are in as good a mood as possible.'

Dr Edward Podolski,
Deakin Business School, Deakin University

Cashing in on happiness

It’s important to remember that grey skies have never stopped people from innovating. Dr Podolski highlights the fact that Sweden has innovated more than a sun-drenched country like Sudan, inventing products from the ultrasound to the seatbelt. ‘The reason for this, of course, is the political and institutional differences between Sudan and Sweden, which are of primary importance to the generation of innovation,’ he explains. Given Sweden appeared in the 2016 World Happiness Report’s top 10 countries, it’s not surprising Swedes are innovation leaders.

A sunny disposition comes from the top of an organisation and filters down, Dr Podolski has found. But it can be a double-edge sword. While happy executives influence their environment for the better ‘managers in a good mood are more likely to overstate reported earnings’, according to Dr Podolski. The risk with this, he says, is shareholders and employees may get a distorted idea of a company’s worth. It’s proof that in business optimism should be applied in moderation. But as long as their inventors are happy, employers have every reason to have faith that the forecast is sunny.

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Dr Edward Podolski
Dr Edward Podolski

Senior Lecturer, Deakin Business School
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