3 Surprising Things Your Workspace Says About You

things your workspace says about you

Career advice abounds, urging job hunters to hone their brand.

It’s guidance that’s worth some serious consideration in a hiring climate where our online personas precede—and can often make or break—the human being behind the resume. But what happens when we land the job? By that point, too many of us neglect to maintain our personal brand in the workplace where it can be every bit as important as it is on the search for a job.

Famed psychiatrist and social critic Thomas Stephen Szasz put it simply and urgently: “In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined.” In the workplace, this maxim plays out on a daily basis where, unfortunately, your job title does not supersede the in-office brand you define for yourself.

Corner office or cubicle, our workspaces tell our employees, coworkers, bosses and clients a lot about ourselves—so it’s no surprise that our workspaces mark the best starting point to control the narrative we tell about ourselves.

  1. What Does Your Desk Say About You? When adding personal touches to your workspace, consider the message they send. Pictures of you competing in a recent marathon, for example, can communicate your competitive spirit and drive to stick with long-term, challenging goals. A framed program from a favorite show can tell people that you’re invested in your local arts and culture scene. In addition to communicating who you are beyond your job title within your workplace, these things can play a particularly useful role when clients stop by. A few well-considered and thoughtfully placed personal items in the client’s eye-line can prove to be a helpful icebreaker or even a point of common ground.Less is more, of course, when it comes to adding personal touches to your workplace. Be strategic in your choices of what to showcase and be careful not to overwhelm: too much packed into one space can be distracting both for you and your coworkers.
  1. Are You (too) Organized? While a cluttered workplace may seem like a no-brainer mistake—communicating an unproductive, messy approach to work that may not be the case in fact—a completely bare workspace can be even more concerning to managers and coworkers. If you’re not investing some personal care for the space where you spend the bulk of your day and your week, it could communicate to your colleagues that you’re not considering staying in that role for very long.
  1. Please, Take a Seat. For managers, the burden to define yourself through your workspace is even greater. If you’re a fan of the standing desk, make sure you have a comfortable seating area available in your office as well. Sure, it may be your office, but if you don’t visually communicate to employees that they have a place to have serious conversations with you, they may come to find you inaccessible. More traditional bosses who sit behind a desk may want to consider adding a separate area in their office just for chatting with employees—often, a large desk can create an unwanted and unintended barrier, unnecessarily reminding employees that they are in the presence of someone much higher up on the food chain.

Unsure where to start? Make a list of the things that people generally find most interesting about you—your go-to cocktail party story might hold some helpful hints—then begin considering how to visually represent that information about yourself. Already decked out to perfection? Start considering how to make your workspace more comfortable and accessible to others. Ultimately, make sure the story that your space tells about you is the one you want others to remember.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.