the science behind anxiety and stressPoetry workshops can help stressed employees ‘voice’ their anxieties over work-life balance and bring emotions such as guilt to the surface, according to new research.

Dr Louise Grisoni, associate dean of Knowledge and Transfer Exchange in the Department of Business and Management at Oxford Brookes University, has found that poetry is a creative way of engaging with the issues of the 13% of people in the UK who work 49 hours or more a week.

Speaking ahead of the ‘Poetics of Work-Life Balance’ event within the Economic and Social Research Council’s Festival of Social Science, which takes place from November 7-14, Dr Grisoni highlighted how the pressures, choices and impacts on people working in organisations are likely to change as businesses recover from the economic down-turn, making work-life balance a greater priority.

"What we have found is that poetry gives people a way to express their thoughts and feelings," Grisoni added. "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. By contrast, Dr Grisoni's research adopted a more ‘holistic’ approach, which is based around poetry workshops.

Participants have included local authority managers as well as master’s 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.

The following is an example of a verse from a group poem created in one of these workshops:
Work-life balance: An ideal to aspire to
The ideal slips away as the turmoil rages
The turmoil of the 25-hour day
Never a fulfilled day: never enough
Never, never a question I ask myself whenever I don’t achieve it
Wherever, whenever, life to the full

The ongoing study has highlighted that people are initially anxious about writing poetry because they regard it as ‘highbrow’. Working with poetry also requires different skills to those that many managers have developed 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’.

Dr Grisoni is hosting a poetry workshop as part of the Festival of Social Science on Friday, November 13, at Oxford Brookes’ Headington Campus.