I spent four years working in a windowless cubicle with flickering fluorescent lights. I loved driving two hours each day in Los Angeles traffic to type away on a clunky computer in my generic gray corporate box, while overhearing coworkers complain and dwelling in the scent of burnt lunchroom coffee!”
Said no one ever.
But that was my situation. (Including the coffee, affectionately referred to as “battery acid.”) My so-called “glamorous” interior styling job in California came with a not-so-glamorous office space that sucked the life out of me. I tried to make it my own, tacking up inspiring interior photos and finding a cute pen cup to corral my obsessive collection of black, fine-tip markers. But at the end of the day, it was lipstick on a pig. I tried halfheartedly to dress up the swine but couldn’t escape the barnyard.
I knew I wasn’t going to be working at that job forever, so I didn’t think it was worth fighting the good fight to create a space I loved. But looking back, four years is a long time in one space, and I wish I’d done more to make it desirable. Maybe I would have been happier with my work if I didn’t hate the space I worked in?
We spend at least eight hours a day in our offices, which is arguably more time than we spend awake while at our homes. So why do we invest so much in our home decor and overlook our offices? Working in a space that doesn’t feel awesome is stressful, life-sucking and generally unpleasant. Not to mention uninspiring. By treating our offices with the same care we do our homes, we can create workspaces that support our careers, creativity and well-being.
It seems to be an unwritten rule that office furniture and supplies are inherently ugly. And sure, the unattractive basics are out there. These tend to be cost-effective purchases, which perpetuates their population. But let me tell you — there are some pretty provisions that are worth the investment to brighten up your day. Little indulgences like a luxe gold stapler or colorful file folders or a unique desk lamp can totally transform your work experience.
No wonder Milton in the cult classic movie “Office Space” was so keen on protecting his superior red Swingline stapler. I imagine it was the only thing bringing him joy when he had to come in on Saturday, and Sunday too. Did you know when that movie was released in 1999 that such a red stapler did not actually exist? It was spray-painted for the film. There was such a demand for it due to the film’s popularity that Swingline officially started producing it in 2002, and the iconic red stapler continues to be a bestseller to this day. Thank goodness! The world needs more colorful staplers.
Introducing purposeful personal items to your office space can also create an inviting vibe and lessen the corporate coldness. Family photos are a common sight on an office desk, but what about bringing in a stack of personal hardcover books or a favorite scented candle or a decorative bowl sourced overseas on a well-deserved vacation? These may not be commonplace in the corporate world, but they sure should be. Our belongings and surroundings have a tremendous impact on how we feel, and I sure feel better around a favorite candle than I do a pedestrian paper tray.
If you’ve decked out your supply drawer and decorated to the best of your ability but still feel like your cubicle is a square box of sorrow, it may be time for more drastic measures. If you’re committed to your career and plan to stick around, why not ask management if you can make some cosmetic changes to your office? Perhaps a new paint color or ceiling fixture or desk chair would make your work life a whole lot more wonderful.
Sure, it’s ahead of the curve to make such an ask, but smart businesses are wising up to the value of employee happiness, especially when employees take initiative and are willing to invest a little elbow grease. Satisfied employees stick around, and it’s far more appealing to an employer to upgrade an office than to replace someone as valuable as you.
I feel fortunate to have the privilege of working from home now after a decade of paying my dues in the cubicle world. No one is stealing my stapler — except my husband — and my home office is a feel-good space decked out with my favorite design books and nary a fluorescent light in sight. The only catch? I can’t blame anyone for making me come in on Saturdays anymore.