Don’t Fear the Flair

It seems that by now everyone should know how important a comfortable work environment is to employee satisfaction and productivity. We’ve all heard the stories about those cushy corporate jobs with in-house daycare centers, weekly chair massages, casual day every day, and a professional fun coordinator on payroll. Amidst the stress of patron requests, I’m sure we’ve all longed for such perks.

But we might not realize our own power to make our work environments more pleasant and more productive spaces.

So until your library workplace installs the bar in the basement or signs you up for mandatory yoga classes three times a week, use these simple principles to take control over your work space and to make it a place you just might want to face every morning.

If you build it, they will come.

The first step toward establishing a healthy and comfortable workspace is feeling like you have your own workspace. Even if you’ve only been allotted a cubicle, desk or small supply closet, don’t hesitate to make that space your own. Putting up personal touches will help you to feel like you’ve made a place for yourself. Having your own place is a vital way to stay sane on the job; we all need a private spot to go to and briefly escape the external pressures of our workday. That same place of escape can also serve the interesting psychological purpose of tying us closer to the goals of our employers. By having a space we can cheerfully call our own, we subtly reinforce that we do have a place and a value within the organization we work for. So no matter your situation, don’t underestimate the importance of settling in for a while and making a niche. Start by carving one out in your physical setting and then go from there!

Don’t fear the flair.

Although nesting might seem like second nature to some of us, not every bird’s the same, so here are a few tips for personalizing your space. First, check and see what, if any, policies your organization may have about decoration (painting, posting, nailing, colors, images, and sentiments) and be sure to observe them. Most of us are fortunate enough to work for employers who do not prohibit the display of appropriate personal items in our workspaces. Natural choices for those with the decorating carte blanche would be photographs of friends and loved ones, plants, objets d’art, posters and other wall art. The key criterion for selecting which items you will display is simple—choose items that mean something special to you and remind you of good people and good times. It’s helpful to mix items such as group work photographs, achievement awards and cards from coworkers with items that hail distinctly from your life outside of work. If your space is shared with colleagues, be mindful of their possible responses and reactions to your creativity and expression.

Achieving a balance of decorations that bring to mind both your most positive work experiences and your external life will help keep you energized and relaxed on the job. I’ve achieved this mix by surrounding myself with items such as a cross-stitch from an old college friend, photographs of colleagues at conference, a thank-you card from a coworker for my help with a project, a foot massager, and a collection of some of my favorite books. Though I’ve yet to have the opportunity to curl up with one of the books during the workday, I find the mere idea of them soothes me. The other objects help keep me focused on my successes in this position and important relationships forged both within and outside of this job.

If you aren’t allowed to display such personal items but have the ability to decorate your space in some fashion, consider this strategy: go home and choose all of the kitschy decorations, figurines or odd gifts you’ve received over the years but have never gotten around to working into your home décor and bring them into the office. While that purple lava lamp and hunting dog statuette might not have worked on your end table, you could be surprised by the harmony they achieve on a fluorescent-lit desk. At the very least, nab a postcard depicting a restful place you’ve always wanted to visit and hang it up.

Never play dirty.

After you’ve built a cheerful space for yourself, don’t forget the important credo—a clean desk is a happy desk. Most people succumb to busy times of the year when the papers start piling up on the desk, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re too busy to take a few minutes to straighten up. Set a small period of time aside, turn off your phone if possible, tell your colleagues you’re working on an important project, and grab the garbage can. Sort through your papers, toss what isn’t necessary, and get that backed-up filing done. Cleaning up every once and awhile will not only make your space look like you’re on top of your game, but you’ll also feel like you are on top of your game. Chances are high you might actually come out better organized. Regular, short cleaning sessions will help you keep items in easy to find places and will help you relocate high-priority items that could have been mixed down in the shuffle. It’s also a worthwhile and useful distraction from your daily routine. So keep your desk and yourself happy and take time to tidy!

Suggested readings

Sundstrom, Eric, Mary Graehl Sundstrom, Daniel Stokols and Irwin Altman. 1986. Work Places: The psychology of the physical environment in offices and factories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yerkes, Leslie. 2001. Fun works: Creating places where people love to work. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Hale, Gill. 2001. How to feng shui your office. London: Lorenz Books.

Hemsath, Dave and Leslie Yerkes. 1997. 301 ways to have fun at work. San Fransisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.


Gwendolyn Prellwitz, Program Officer for the Office for Diversity, has been decorating her offices with flair for the past 5 years. Prior to that she was renowned for her lavish locker arrangements and her perky party touches.