Diversity in Marital Status Leads to More Creativity in the Workplace
What do rock bands and MBA students have in common? A new Michigan State University study examining both groups says that both types of groups experience increased creativity, innovation, and collaborative thinking when their members are a mix of married and unmarried people.
For decades, research proved that diversity — in terms of age, race and gender — brought new talents and perspectives to a group. Yet, “lifestyle diversity,” such as living situations or marital status, has not been studied in depth before.
“To address this research gap and bring awareness of lifestyle differences to the diversity conversation, we examine an important and relevant type of lifestyle diversity, marriage diversity, which is timely given the increasing number of single people in the global workforce,” said Don Conlon, a professor of management at MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business.
To examine the impact of so-called marital diversity on the success of a group, Conlon and Karen Etty Jehn, of the University of Melbourne, looked at rock bands and MBA students, operating under the assumption that these groups are so vastly different that shared benefits from diversity might reflect a pattern.
“What we found was that marital diversity facilitated both critical and popular success for bands that were later in their careers. So, the more time they spent working together, the more having a blended mix of people helped their musical success,” Conlon said.
Using traditional group modeling, Conlon performed a similar analysis on MBA students at an Australian University. Here, he looked at 73 MBA student teams performing a semester-long consulting project in a class. Marital diversity had more of an effect on the groups’ performances toward the end of the semester, after they’d spent a considerable amount of time working together, which mirrored the findings on bands.
The research suggests that differences in marital status can spur creativity in the workplace, and create a set of diverse experiences and information that ultimately benefits all members of the workplace. Because diverse marital statuses are unlikely to provoke conflict in a group, there are only benefits.
If corroborated by further research, this is a takeaway that could inspire changes to hiring practices.
“Different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives associated with different life situations and choices may help the members engage in deeper information processing and more divergent thinking, allowing for more creative and exciting end products and popular success with the public,” Conlon said.