Sandy Says: The Tale of the Singing Construction Worker

Oct. 1, 2009
Feeling at home at work can be a good or bad thing.

I thought the cumulative noise from the pounding, crashing, drilling and sawing couldn't get any louder. Then the singing started. A construction worker decided that it wasn't enough to blast a radio; this budding karaoke star had to sing along. With every word, I could feel a growing inability to get anything accomplished.

I watch a lot of HGTV, a cable network dedicated to home improvement and renovation, and one of the messages that comes through loud and clear in episodes that spotlight major home renovations is that you should MOVE OUT while the renovation is ongoing. Why? Because the noise, dirt and chaos will drive you to distraction.

In this case, I couldn't move out; I wasn't at home. As a benefit of re-signing the lease at our offices, our company's elevator lobbies, reception areas, bathrooms, kitchens, meeting rooms and hallways are being treated to a makeover courtesy of building management. Some of these changes, such as ones to bathrooms that have not been updated since the 1960s, were welcome. Others, to the reception areas, kitchens and meeting rooms — capably and stylishly decorated by professionals not too long ago — were met with less enthusiasm. This particularly was true on my floor, the last to be renovated. You see, we had the opportunity to explore the renovations to our co-workers' floors and, well, most of us … hated them.

Described variously as “Miami hotel circa 1992,” “an operating room,” “a morgue,” “bright and cheerful” and “some cheesy set from a sci-fi movie,” the renovations are taking us from terra cotta venetian plaster walls, charcoal grey wall coverings, subdued lighting and industrial finishes to white tile, pale sage green paint and veneered white walls with very bright florescent lights.

I, for one, am dreading the changes, almost preferring the “industrial chic” of plywood, plaster and hanging conduits to the finished product. Knowing that all of us are putting up with the dirt and distractions for an end result that pleases none of us is discouraging.

Although there's no consensus about what we rather would have seen (what's the point of thinking about that now?), there are two things on which we all agree: Spending the next 6 weeks dodging hanging wires, broken glass and construction debris to get to our desks is no fun and none of us were asked what we wanted.

As you can read in an article in EHS News in this month's issue, new research suggests that work productivity and morale could be improved by giving employees the freedom to develop the look and feel of their own office environment.

In these lean times where layoffs are plenty and raises are few, even small things — such as asking for employee input into workspace design or choices of paint color — can reap huge rewards. It makes employees feel valued, and leads to a greater sense of ownership and comfort in the workplace. Conversely, failing to do so can lead to feelings of alienation and separation from the employer.

Employers have spent hundreds of thousands dollars — even millions of dollars — designing workspaces in the hope of improving productivity and morale. But regardless of cost — and this is another thing I've learned from HGTV — good design only is good if the customer (in this case, the employees) feel comfortable in that space.

Research also suggests that even considerate — and potentially expensive — office design will, on its own, fall short of contributing a full sense of identity with the host organization.

“The simple approach of involving office workers in the design of their own surroundings proves to deliver the best levels of organizational identification, citizenship, well-being and productivity,” said Kenneth Freeman, international technical director at Ambius. “We advise businesses to factor in these findings when organizing work space and recruiting employees to help with design.”

A happy work force is a productive, and arguably, safer work force. Ask employees for their input when changes are planned for their work environment. Their answers might surprise you — leading to better design choices — and the results will make both of you happy.

Send an e-mail with your thoughts to [email protected].

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