Are you stifling employee curiosity?

by Nicola Middlemiss13 Nov 2015
A new study has found that the majority of businesses in Australia and New Zealand are not doing enough to encourage curiosity in the workplace, with one of the survey’s figureheads warning that this could be costly to employers.

The Rackspace Curiosity Quotent surveyed 1,368 ‘white-collar’ workers around Australia and New Zealand – of those, 44% said that they worked for a company that they felt was curious. Of those, 84% agreed that curiosity played an important role in driving revenue.

This, arguably, was linked to the trend demonstrated between curious workplaces and employee satisfaction: in ‘curious’ organisations, 85% of respondents said that they were happy in their jobs, while just 45% in the ‘non-curious’ organisations said the same.

Of the entire respondent group, 73% said that it was important to be curious within a professional context.

“The findings showed us that it was generally agreed that curiosity is a highly valuable business trait – and yet organisations are not encouraging it,” said Angus Dorney, general manager at Rackspace.

But how can HR detect curiosity in candidates, employees and the workforce as a whole? According to Dorney, there are certain values that act as indicators of curious individuals; and curious organisations encourage those so that curiosity thrives.

Rackfpace found that the top curiosity traits for individuals were: furthering their own education and knowledge, a thirst for discovery, and researching new things that they can do.

“Organisations have got to give their staff the opportunity to do these things,” Dorney told HC.

“This is very difficult to do in high time-pressured and high stress work environments.”

Workplaces stifling curiosity

So are employees lacking curiosity, or is it just that workplaces don’t encourage it?

“If I looked at the survey, 80% of respondents said it’s important to be curious in life generally; so I think that the suggestion there is that there is a natural tendency for people to be curious,” Dorney said.

“In our personal lives, we are probably more curious than in our professional lives.

“What we are saying here is that if we look at the numbers, people want to be curious and discover new things, but this is not being fostered in the workplace – it’s actually being stifled.”

He suggested that employers should give their staff time for disruptive and curious thinking.

“This allows employees to discover new ways to do their jobs better and disrupt their own business models,” Dorney said.

However, the study found that just 37% of participants in the survey said that their employer allowed them time to switch off from their day-to-day routine to think and focus on being curious.

“Curiosity is absolutely linked to innovation – it is the starting point for disruption and innovation,” Dorney added.

“We believe that humans are born naturally curious, and want to ask questions and ask ‘why’ – but too many organisations stifle that kind of curiosity.

“If we don’t ask questions, how would things ever be different?”

When questioned about what they felt was preventing curiosity, and identified the two biggest barriers as pressures on time and stress in the workplace.

Another big issue was rigid hierarchies and organisations being ‘too set in their ways’. More than a quarter of respondents said that their company was ‘shackled by old systems and processes’.

Trans-Tasman differences

The survey had responses from 1,368 orgs – 328 of which were New Zealand-based.

“One of findings was that New Zealanders thought that their organisations were less curious than their Australian counterparts,” Dorney said.

“We are seeing more curiosity coming out of New Zealand in their business models and way that organisations operate, so it surprised me that Kiwis felt that their companies were less curious.

“However, aside from that, we had reasonably consistent responses.”

Dorney also speculated that Rackspace’s research was just the beginning of a realisation of the importance of workplace curiosity.

“This is a fascinating area, and one we’re going to hear a lot more about,” he said.

“Established organisations place too much emphasis on risk management and more straightforward areas; but there is not enough emphasis on encouraging curiosity in the workplace.

“For us, this is not just a one-off snapshot; we want to tap into these dynamics and see improvement in this space.”

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