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How to Avoid an “Office Space” Work Environment

By Townes Haas   |    May 20, 2015   |    9:36 AM

The film Office Space is a cult classic in America, mainly because many adults can emphatically relate to the mundane, frustrating office environment depicted in the film. Boring cubicles, poor management, broken technology… it's enough to make any employee dread coming into the office. It's a scenario that no business owner or manager wants to deal with, so here's how to keep your office environment friendly and enjoyable, so that your employees aren't snickering about terrible working conditions at the water cooler.

Give employees some control over their workspace

While Peter Gibbons, the main character of Office Space, dismantles his cubicle in a moment of frustrated defiance, the cube isn't always the root of the problem. We all perform our best work in different ways. Some people thrive in open offices, whereas others prefer the privacy of their own cubicle or office because they can't easily tune out distractions. It's important to let staff know that while they can't knock down walls, they can have control over their physical workspace.

If you have an open office setup consider creating work stations that are more closed-off than others, for example. Let employees know that they can switch up their seating to a standing desk or a stability ball or give them freedom to change the lighting at their desk. Having a say in how their office is set up can improve employee morale dramatically.

Focus on employee engagement

In Office Space, Peter is entirely disengaged and uninterested in his job. After years of bad management he simply doesn't care anymore, and who can blame him? It's a scenario that every manager dreads, but it can easily be avoided. Foster engagement by focusing on effective communication, rewarding good work, and tracking progress.

It's also important to remember that engagement and motivation are dependent upon the individual. Spend some time figuring out what motivates each member of your team. Some employees need to be praised regularly, whereas others measure their success by increasing levels of responsibility. There's no one-size fits all approach to engaging your staff.

Think about how management decisions impact employees

A large chunk of the employee disdain that we see in Office Space could be avoided with bosses who truly empathize with their employees. When Peter's boss asks him to come into work on Saturdays and Sundays due to short-term staffing losses and a decrease in productivity, poor Peter loses any remaining shred of motivation that he might have had left. Then, there's the nonsensical rule about cover sheets for TPS reports that was delivered via a memo.

Don't do the same thing to your staff. Communicate effectively, and don't implement rules just for the sake of having more rules. Before you request something think about the request's impact in the long-term. As for working on weekends, sometimes it's necessary. But, if you're asking your employees to go above and beyond each week, without any recognition or even compensation, you're planting the seeds of discontent.

If you feel like your office environment might be a bit Office Space-esque, keep these points in mind, and try to fix the workplace. Preferably before employees decide to destroy malfunctioning office equipment


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