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Does your workplace décor reflect boundaries as well as professionalism?

That was the topic in the Indianapolis Star last October. (The link to the article no longer works.) Here’s an excerpt:
“It seems all those knickknacks that help personalize an office space can reflect poorly on a worker's professional image, according to research from the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

"There is this taboo in American culture against referencing your personal life in the workplace," says Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, assistant professor of management and organization at Michigan. "This happens through photos, kids' drawings, but it also comes through subtle references you might make, comments about personal life."

Sanchez-Burks and colleagues Susan Ashford and Emily Heaphy, both of McGill University in Canada, conducted two studies with managers and corporate recruiters to see if impressions of professionalism are tainted by references to personal life. The answer was yes.

How much is too much?
Researchers say if more than one in five items that adorn your office are personal in nature, you may be viewed as unprofessional. Most of what decorates your office should be neutral. Think Monet paintings and professional award certificates.”


I don't believe having 5 or more "personal" items in your office makes you appear unprofessional. A man or lady who places family pictures or things they like to collect in their offices reflect their personalities - not how professional they are. I do not want to be the type of person to "judge" people's work, by the appearance of their office. I don't like to see a cluttered work space, but what items a person displays is a good conversational "starter".

I think the mores on this are changing, at least in more progressive environments. The use of social networking tools continues to blur the lines of personal/professional.

There are certainly still taboo subjects between individuals (borrowing from the Sammy Kershaw song of "Politics, Religion, and 'Her'"), but the visibility through tools like twitter, Facebook, and others that are providing glimpses into the out-of-work activities seem to be strengthening relationships in many workplaces, not damaging them from the the blurring of the boundary lines.

I've walked in some offices and thought I was in the person's home. On the flip side I've been in offices and wondered if a robot or person worked there. We spend a considerable portion of our time in an office and it seems natural that it should reflect our personalities and interests. At the same time I also believe it should foremost reflect a "work environment." I too try not to judge a person's work by the appearance of his/her office. But be assured that co-workers, clients and customers all have a response to what they see.