Poetry helps to improve work-life balance, research finds

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Louise-Grisoni

Poetry can help ease stress and anxiety in employees, a study by an Oxford Brookes academic has found.

Poetry workshops can help stressed employees ‘voice’ their anxieties over work-life balance because it brings emotions such as guilt to the surface and therefore helps resolve issues around prioritising between work and family or leisure activities.

With more than ten per cent of the UK working population working 49 hours a week or more, work-life balance and how to achieve it is a topical issue. As organisations recover from the economic down-turn then the pressures, choices and impacts on people working in organisations are likely to change, making work-life balance a greater priority.

What we have found is that poetry gives people a way to express their feelings.They do this through the power of metaphor and similes which enables them to see their issues in a new light, to give permission to their concerns and get to the essence of people’s values.

Louise Grisoni, Associate Dean Research and Knowledge Exchange, Oxford Brookes University

The research has found that poetry is a creative way of engaging with the topic and will be the focus of an event as part of the annual Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science. 

Dr Louise Grisoni, Associate Dean Research and Knowledge Exchange in the Department of Business and Management at Oxford Brookes said: “What we have found is that poetry gives people a way to express their feelings.

“They do this through the power of metaphor and similes which enables them to see their issues in a new light, to give permission to their concerns and get to the essence of people’s values.”

Traditional approaches to achieving a better work-life balance have focused on asking people to identify how much time they allocate to different tasks or activities. However, Dr Grisoni has adopted a more holistic approach with her research which is based around poetry workshops. 

Participants have included local authority managers as well as with masters’ students mainly working in the public sector. They are encouraged to write their own verse or to create collective poems within the group. In group work, participants write one line then keywords and these words go around the group – people ‘discover’ their own poem from the collective ones. Another approach is using Haiku – a form of three line poetry – to enable those taking part to access buried emotions and create ‘realities’ outside the workplace. 

The ongoing study has highlighted that people are anxious initially about writing poetry because they regard it as ‘highbrow’. Working with poetry also requires different skills to those that many managers have developed and perfected in daily practice. However, it does enable them to depart from traditional ways of thinking, to be creative rather than reinforcing what they already know and to say ‘the unsayable’.

In addition, the study has identified that people come away from the workshops feeling more in control of their lives and how they allocate their time between work, family and hobbies. “It’s about seeing things differently and thinking differently, not about creating beautifully crafted poetry,” says Dr Grisoni. “I’d hesitate to call it therapy – it’s about exercising other parts of our brain, for example the creative right part rather than the rational left part which is focused on problem solving.”

Dr Grisoni is hosting one of her poetry workshops as part of an event entitled ‘The Poetics of Work-Life Balance’ at Oxford Brookes University’s Brookes Live event on the Headington Campus on 13 November. 

More information about research and courses in the Faculty of Business can be found on the dedicated webpages