Office Personalization and Employee Well-Being, Satisfaction and Motivation

There’s something about brand new offices that makes me feel unease. Perfectly polished, color-coordinated, and smelling of “the new” they’re somewhat surreal, like those weird dreams when you’re at familiar place but something is just off.  It’s clear that the space is waiting for people to bring it to life – to walk its floors, to yell across its hallways, to gather in the elevators, sit in chairs, fill trash cans, leave their coats, bags, coffe cups, papers, stains, fingerprints.. all around. In short, it takes some clutter and chaos in the office to know that “real, normal” people work there.

Brand new office at Weber Thompson, WA, U.S. (click to enlarge); photo by

Sometimes, though, company policies don’t allow much evidence of “real normal” people working in their offices. They prohibit any signs of their employees’ private lives – like family photographs, plants, artwork or memorabilia, keeping the appearance of that brand new, impersonal, sterile workplace. Does professional mean impersonal? Do companies and employees benefit from focusing on the role of a worker and suppressing other aspects of employee’s identity? Or does office personalization allow workers to see  their workplace as their space and thus make them feel more involved? Here are some interesting findings.

photo by emurray

Personalization of the office environment relates to the deliberate modification or change of the workspace by the employee. It can signify individuality and identity, mark one’s territory, and regulate social interactions. Personalization leads to a positive organizational and social climate, higher employee morale, and increased retention (according to Wells, 2000).

photo by Morgan Solar

Both satisfaction with the physical environment and work motivation are related to how much the employee is allowed to personalize versus how much s/he would like to personalize, the number of personal items displayed, and the extent to which employees are able to determine their furnishings and furniture arrangement (Miller et al., 2001; Wells,2009).

photo by favaro JR.

Satisfaction with the physical work environment is positively associated with job satisfaction, which in turn is positively associated with employee well-being (Wells, 2001).

photo by wockerjabby

There are some gender differences concerning office personalization which might be interesting for the companies since there is a growing number of working women (Wells, 2001).

Women personalize their workspaces more than men. They do so in order to express identity, individuality and emotions and to improve the workplace feel. Women display more symbols of personal relationships (Wells, 2001, Dinc 2009). More women than men rearranged their offices more than three times since moving into them (Dinc, 2009).

photo by Shine 2010 – 2010 World Cup good news

Men are more likely to be unsatisfied with the aesthetic environment and are less likely to experience emotional attachment to their offices than women. They are also less likely to make temporary layout changes to their offices when compared to women (Dinc, 2009).

Men most often personalize to show status and usually display sports-related symbols (Wells, 2000).

Office designed and rendered by Dang Khoi; photo by jinkazamah

Researchers have also found that employees will personalize their spaces to some degree regardless of corporate policy (Wells,2001). I guess it’s impossible (and undesirable by the employees) to completely separate personal and professional sphere. No one wants to completely lose oneself because of what they do. On the contrary, we want to be accepted for who we are by others, including our employers (instead having to hide or alter who we are).

photo by twowest

Companies can benefit from providing areas for personalization (bookshelves or tackable surfaces) and flexible furniture that can be easily manipulated, altered, and modified by the employee to create a sense of personal control, thereby increasing satisfaction with the physical environment, job satisfaction, work motivation and well-being of their employees.


Dinç, P. (2009) Gender (In)difference in Private Offices: A Holistic Approach for Assessing Satisfaction and Personalization.  Journal of Environmental Psychology. 29, 1, pp 53-62. (link)

Miller,N.G., Erickson,A., and Love Yust, B. (2001) Sense of Place in the Workplace: The Relationship Between Personal Objects and Job Satisfaction and Motivation. Journal of Interior Design. 27,1, pp 35-44. (link)

Wells, M.M. (2000) Office Clutter or Meaningful Personal Displays: The Role of Office Personalization in Employee and Organizational Well-Being. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 20, pp 239-255. (link)

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