Acting in a theatre production, trying out dance moves or participating in a storytelling session are not the normal skill sets that corporate employees expect to be told to cultivate. Creative action methods such as dance, music, theatre, psychodrama (a group work method that explores the problems, concerns and dreams of individuals, groups and organizations) and experiential learning—all of which aim at putting people in touch with their minds and bodies—are gaining greater acceptance at workplaces.
Employers across the country are adopting a host of such methods as part of corporate training programmes, in the hope that it will promote a sense of holistic well-being in employees that will ultimately extend to the organization itself.
“Every time people learn through a creative method, there is a process of reflection and realization, and each person grows at an individual level,” says Papiya Banerjee, director, human resources, Aviva Global Services, Pune, who feels creative methods are gaining ground as organizations realize that what people need to develop is not just a prescribed skill set but a mindset that stimulates learning. “Such learning must become part of an individual’s personality. Only then will he be able to transform that into action,” says Banerjee.
Workplace stress is emerging as a major cost factor—in the next 10 years, losses resulting from workplace stress in India could amount to $200 billion (Rs8.48 trillion), according to a study by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. This is mirrored by global trends—in the UK, stress-related absence from work is estimated to set companies back by £11 million (Rs91.7 crore) a year.
The constant need to upgrade skills is also a major part of workplace stress. “Companies now expect people to take on more than one role and develop multiple competencies,” says Sushma Sharma, chief executive officer, Resonate Consulting, Mumbai, which offers organization development sessions for companies using creative tools.
Apart from the pressure relating to individual performance, employees have to contend with fluid business environments.
“During a merger and acquisition process at the workplace, there was a lot of pent-up anxiety and stress among employees, there was real fear of job loss,” says Purnima Joshi, communication consultant, Aviva Global Services.
During this period, the company conducted learning sessions that included creative methods such as appreciative enquiry, which trains people to focus on the positives in the environment, in their co-workers and within themselves. “Taking part in such a session helped us stay calm in the midst of adversity and also retain our sanity,” says Joshi.
Work-induced stress manifests itself primarily in ailments such as hormonal disorders, repetitive stress injury and chronic pain.
“At least a quarter of my patients are corporate employees in the age group of 25–40, and quite often there are no apparent physical causes for the pain they suffer; it is in their minds,” says Rajat Chauhan, a musculoskeletal, sports and exercise medicine specialist who often finds himself playing the part of a psychologist.
Once an unrelenting focus on targets and performance reduces individual well-being, it leads to attrition. “Organizations are focusing on skill enhancements through creative methods as the cost of attrition is far higher than the cost of retaining an employee,” says Zeb O. Waturuocha, principal consultant, AUI Consultants, who offers corporate learning programmes in Mysore.
In companies such as Ceat Ltd, the need to build fresh momentum in business led the company to use creative action methods to enhance employee skill sets.
“We felt that we had to push the boundaries in order to shift orbit and take the organization to a different level,” says Rahul Ghatak , vice-president, human resources. Over the last year, the company has used various tools to coach managers across all levels in the company.
The results are already becoming evident within Ceat. “As people feel empowered, top management has to deal with far fewer unresolved issues that are now routinely resolved at functional levels,” says Ghatak.
Providing such skill building and conflict resolution mechanisms at workplaces can make a huge difference to the employees’ holistic well-being and productivity, say medical practitioners.
“It is important that such sessions using creative methods are organized at the workplace. This gives employees, who have no real time to devote to personal development, a chance to reconnect with their own mind and body,” says Mohan K. Rao, an endocrinologist in Bangalore who treats corporate employees for a host of work-related illnesses arising from hormonal imbalances.
To encourage a problem solving approach that is critical for corporate employees who work in teams, companies are using a method called “appreciative enquiry”.
“More than a training tool, this is a philosophy or a way of life,” says Sharma of Resonate Consulting.
This method essentially uses storytelling as its framework, where the members in a group swap stories about experiences or about a commonly shared event. The narrator’s recounting of the experience is then analysed by the rest of the group.
Typically such a tool is used to reinforce the positives within an individual or a group. “People need relationships, appreciation and opportunities to be creative and there is a new awakening among employers about managing this human side of enterprise,” says Waturuocha.
The lack of physical space is a common downside of corporate work environments. In a movement-based training session, people are placed within a closed carton where one strains to move around and break free, an experience that can unleash dormant emotions.
“In movement technique training, we put people through such an experience and then follow it up with verbal processing where they recount their experience,” says Tripura Kashyap, a trained classical dancer who focuses on corporate training programmes through the medium of body movement.
The craft of theatre
As a member of Madras Theatre Players, one of the oldest English language theatre groups in the country, T.T. Srinath is bringing the craft of theatre to his coaching engagements with companies.
One half of a group is asked to put up a tableau or create a sculpture while the other half is asked to interpret it. Groups can be of people from different streams, such as marketing and production, that get to interact in a completely non-threatening situation.
“In the past, organizations were never comfortable with dialogue or with interactions with their employees; they were wary of the touchy-feely aspect of personal development,” says Srinath.
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