Personal touches to the office

It is a good idea for every manager to make their employees feel comfortable at work. Countless studies suggest that the odd personal touch here and there is likely to make for a happier and more productive workplace. A photo of your kids or favourite holiday destination also gives you the opportunity to talk to your co-workers about something other than billing programs and sales figures. Similarly, a keychain with the logo of your favourite football club invites a short conversation about the results of the big game on the weekend. As with all things, an eye for moderation will help you to create a good atmosphere at work without detracting from your productivity.

The desk as the employee’s business card

Your boss will judge the personal effects at your desk just like they judge its tidiness, and they will use both to draw conclusions about your personality and productivity. Your superiors will have no reason to complain if you keep a plant, a few photos or a small banner on your desk. However, note that there are exceptions to the items you can reasonably use to decorate your desk. For example, try to avoid installing disco balls and modifying your office chair. Your company may already have regulations in place if your office has frequent customer contact. Even in the absence of such rules, take a look at your boss’ office and the desks of your co-workers. If they have some personal touches to liven up their working environment, a bit of decoration is allowed. To be on the safe side, simply raise the topic with your boss or co-worker.

The office as a business card

A company office, particularly an open-plan office space, functions as a business card because it says a lot about the character of a business. Is your office a homely environment that gives you al lot of room for creativity, or does it promote a clearly defined working life in which personal effects are secondary to professionalism. The items you keep on your desk are indicative of the personality of the worker. Somebody that keeps their desk in decent shape and has an eye for style probably does not mind coming to work. On the other hand, someone that litters their desk with only stationery and the serviettes from the closest fast-food joint looks like they are in a rush to go home. The image that your office projects may also depend on the type of company or department you work in. The accounting department of an insurance company is unlikely to have the same stylistic touches as the creative workshop of a fashion bureau.

Your desk: moderation is everything

Employees whose desk looks like the wreckage from a bombing raid are likely to be judged as disorganised, unprofessional and sloppy by their co-workers and boss. On the other hand, employees whose desktop does not contain more than a computer monitor and the occasional sheet of paper may be judged as boring, uncreative and even unproductive. It follows that your action figure, miniature car and plush toy collections should probably stay at home but that a personal desk lamp, a framed family or holiday photograph or a well-tended pot plant definitely has a place on your desk. A desk organised according to these fundamental principles is conducive to creativity and will be well regarded by your boss.

Desk decoration as a question of law

But what is the situation from a workers’ rights perspective? Do employees have a right to arrange their desk as they see fit? Yes and no! This is a complicated issue because a superior’s managerial authority conflicts with the employee’s right to personal expression. The rights of your superior are likely to have more weight if they use arguments about customer and sales traffic. This is because company employees represent their company via their workplace. In an open-plan office, personal touches are more acceptable on a smaller scale than in private offices. However, do not compromise on them completely, particularly if you have a private office. A private office is unlikely to see as much customer contact as an open-plan office. This means that your boss should be more accepting of additional personal touches.

And so they should. Studies show that a decorated workplace contributes to the extent to which employees identify with their job. However, this is not the case if your personal effects are excessive or distracting. The Playboy pin-up of the month on your pin board is clearly out of place, and so is a phallic bottle opener on your desk or a computer background with a rude double meaning. Something of this nature would be regarded as blatantly discriminatory. If your co-workers complain about inappropriate items on a neighbouring desk, your boss will have no choice but to take action.

Clothes, shoes, cosmetics and handbags

Cosmetics, shoes and handbags have no place at work. It may be practical to keep some spare clothes at work, and your boss is not likely to have anything against this as long as you store your clothes out of sight. If there are no wardrobes available at work, there is good reason to transform a desk drawer or two into a mini clothes depot. Nail polish, hand creams, toothbrushes and deodorant should also be kept under lock and key and should not make an appearance on your desk. Other personal items, such as sunglasses or the book you are reading on the train to work, can generally be kept on your desk because they are associated with the commute to and from the workplace.

What about plants in the office?

Keeping pot plants at work is unlikely to raise objections. Leafy green plants improve air quality and add appealing aesthetic touches. They are also proven to relax the eye muscles. You are also unlikely to have any co-workers who regard plants as undesirable in the office. Simply make sure to ask your boss or superior for permission to keep your pot plants at work. This advice applies particularly to potentially borderline cases, such as a 6-foot tall Yucca palm or Aunt Gertrude’s rubber tree. Flower pots that are kept on the ground should be placed well clear of walkways and fire escapes.

Rearranging furniture requires the boss’s approval

Rearranging furniture should be regarded as off limits when decorating the office. Employees should not charge themselves with interior design by shifting their desk, placing their office chair on the other side of their desk or moving shelves or filing cabinets. Nothing of this description should take place without prior permission from your superior or boss. Note well that rearranging the office space so that you can no longer see your neighbouring co-worker is regarded as discrimination.

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