Up close and too personal?
WORKPLACES: Many companies have a “clean desk” policy. This means that employees are not permitted to have personal items on their desks. Although the policy is meant to increase productivity, some critics say it has the opposite effect.
Former call centre employee John Crowley told the BBC that when he started his job, employees were allowed to have personal items such as family photos or plants on their desks. Six years later, when he left the call centre, the desk was bare apart from a phone and a computer.
“In my first couple of years I was more energetic and productive than in my last two years,” Crowley said. “I was feeling better about my work when they [management] weren’t so tough.”
"I was feeling better about my work when management weren't so tough." John Crowley
Business psychologist Craig Knight says that his research shows that employees who are allowed to have at least one picture or plant in their cubicle are 15 per cent more productive than those who are required to keep their workspaces impersonal. And those who can decorate their workspaces as they wish are 25 per cent more productive than the empty deskers.
“When we can enrich our space, we’re happier,” Knight explains. “And we work better when we’re happier.”
Consultant Chris Cutter says that corporations often want a standardized approach to running their businesses. “Employers by their nature trend towards paternalism,” comments Cutter, who is founder and CEO of LifeDojo in San Francisco. “So this kind of policy is part of that. It’s standardization, it’s predictability.”
Knight says that the clean-desk policy has been popularized by the Six Sigma and Lean management theories. “The logic is that if all you have at your desk is what you need to do your job, then you’ll be more productive,” he explains. “It’s about maximizing your time in your workspace.”
Meanwhile, John Crowley now works for People HR, a software company. The firm actually encourages employees to decorate their workspaces. “It’s liberating. And it makes me want to put in more effort and get more results for my company,” Crowley comments.