During the working week you do (or will) spend much of your life at work. In fact, chances are, there will be days where you spend more of your waking life at work than you do at home. Doesn’t it make sense, therefore, to make it a little bit more ‘homely?’ Some people like to put up pictures of family or friends at the office or put a plant on their desk. Small additions to your workspace can help make your workspace more like your own and can break up the monotony of the average workplace environment. But could these additions to your workspace make you appear unprofessional and thereby even harm your career prospects?
Laurie Cohen, a professor of work and organisation at the University of Nottingham Business School researched the topic with the help of Professor Melissa Tyler of the University of Essex. While Cohen and Tyler were specifically looking at how the matter relates to women in the workplace, the results were still interesting.
Interviews with dozens of female office workers found that there were different motivations for brightening their working environments – and far from just being about cheering the place up, some were very career-savvy! However, on the other end of things were those who added pictures and other items to their workspace to get approval from their colleagues.
There is a difference between seeking approval (‘please like me’) and wanting to impress (‘promote me’). Those who want to impress are conscientious of how their workspace appears – perhaps trying to look professional or approachable – while those who are after approval may be more interested in making others smile.
Of course, if everyone else is personalising their workspace their may be a level of pressure for you to do the same. For example, if everyone else has pictures of their family on display, then if you don’t, does that make you seem cold-hearted?
That said, the research also found people who refused to personalise their workspace at all. They believe, for some reason, that it is unprofessional to have any personal items on display at all.
So, who’s right? Is it unprofessional to personalise your workspace, or is it actually a useful way of showing just how professional and work-orientated you are?
I would argue it is both and neither of these things at the same time.
The answer is to do what feels right for you. If you want to have a picture of your family pinned up where you work, then why not? Equally, if you don’t go in for that sort of thing, then don’t feel you have to follow suit.
Unless there is a specific rule at your work about personalising your work area, then there is nothing wrong with adding a personal touch to your workspace. As mentioned above, you are going to spend a lot of time there over the course of the working week, so it may as well be somewhere that you find pleasant.
Many forward-thinking companies can see the benefit of having a pleasant working environment and spend a lot of time, money, and energy in making sure their employees are happy and relaxed at work. Of course, at the same time these companies need to make sure the environment doesn’t detract from the work that needs to be done, and you should be the same when adding a personal touch to where you work.
Check the culture of your employee and make sure any additions are in line with it. Different workplaces have different expectations and images to present. Try to keep in mind how your workspace reflects on the company you work for, as well as on yourself as a person and employee.
By all means, make your work environment personal to you, but remember it’s not actually your home!