How to fix a depressing workplace

Q. My workplace is a depressing environment. The cubicles are grey, close together and plain. I often leave work feeling flat, low energy and gloomy. Is there anything I can do to make my surroundings less dismal?

A. Yes, there is a lot of research indicating that physical space has an impact on the emotions and productivity of employees. There is even an ancient Chinese philosophy of physical space, called feng shui, that focuses on harmonizing the surrounding environment to support the well-being of people.

Commercial designers of business properties often pay consultants to look at colors, shapes and even the landscape that surrounds a business building. One university landscape designer went so far as to plant just grass on the grounds, wait until he could see where the grass was beaten down, and only then design the walkways.

When you go into a place of business, pay attention to the way color, carpet and physical space are used. In fast food restaurants, bright colors try to move customers to eat fast and leave. At gourmet restaurants, calm colors make customers want to linger.

In your workplace, you have no more control over how the whole physical space is arranged than you do the psychological issues that play out there. However, you certainly can control your specific office or cubicle space.

The ultimate goal I urge on my readers is to focus on everything they can influence that supports their emotional well-being in their workplace. If you can see and gain control over everything you have power over, you can thrive in nearly any job.

Toward that end, make a list of physical items that make you feel calm and happy. Pictures of family or friends, living plants, flowers, humorous paperweights, colorful posters of beautiful places you'd like to visit or even things that smell good to you.

Creating an office space that drenches your senses with positive memories, beauty and smells you enjoy will immediately improve your mood. Obviously, you want to make sure you don't add anything to your desk that is prohibited or that undermines your reputation.

Make another list of everything in your office that makes you feel badly or depressed, such as a gift from a boss you hated or a policy hanging on your wall that makes you feel mad. Toss out gag gifts that are insulting from a coworker or anything that reminds you of unpleasant moments.

You may end up upgrading your in-box to your favorite wood, buying elegant pens, or listening to classical music via earphones as you work. The ultimate outcome would be to make your office a place you enjoy.

If you want other creative ideas, try reading anything on how to improve your environment. There are plenty of books and even resources on the Internet. You could also check into suggestions by feng shui practitioners. Any philosophy that has been consistently used for over 3,500 years old probably has something useful to offer you today.

Consider that changing your physical space is a solid metaphor and inspiration to change your emotional and interpersonal habits as well. The largest depressant in the world is a sense of powerlessness. Anything you can do to take back power in your work space will lift your mood.

The last word(s)

Q. I find most people at work incredibly annoying. Do I have to like people to be effective in my workplace?

A. No, but you do need to use useful interpersonal tools even when you are upset. No one knows when you don't like them, but everyone will know if you act badly when you don't like them.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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