Survey: Workers Scaling Back on Personal Workplace Touches

August 21, 2006 ( - Workers have scaled back on putting personal touches on their work spaces over the past decade, mostly blaming a lack of company encouragement, according to a recent survey of US office workers.

The survey of about 700 office workers by Michigan-based Steelcase, which designs and manufactures office furniture, found that 59% of workers personalize their work areas, a 26% plummet from the 85% of Americans who said they did so in a 1996 survey.

The reasons for the sharp decline vary. Some 25% of workers said they did not personalize because their employer does not encourage it, down from 42%, and 37% said they do not do so because they work in a shared space. The survey found that 40% of employers actively encourage employees to decorate their workspace, a 16% dip since 1996.

The other reasons respondents gave for not personalizing their workspace were:

  • No designated personal space, 35%
  • Lack of space, 28%
  • Don’t want to seem unprofessional, 17%
  • To avoid distraction, 13%
  • To avoid damaging the wall, 6%

The reason workers personalize their workspace made little fluctuation since a similar suvey conducted ten years ago, with 63% saying they did so to feel more at home in the space. However, 56% of workers said they wanted to express their individuality, up from 39% who cited that reason in 1996.

“Employees are becoming increasingly mobile and many organizations have responded to that trend by creating shared ‘touch-down’ spaces that people can use when they need to be in the office, which allows companies to use their overall space more efficiently,” said Chris Congdon, manager of corporate marketing for Steelcase, in a news release on the survey. He added that one reason workers are decorating less is because employers are trying to create more spaces to accommodate employees who work from several locations.

The survey also found that younger workers aged 18 to 34 are less likely (35%) to personalize their work space than workers aged 25 and older (62%).

The survey also looked at different ways in which employees chose to put their own touches on the places they worked, with the most common addition being photographs (84%), an increase from 69% that put up photographs in 1996.

Other common ways workers decorated their spaces were:

  • Calendars, 55%
  • Paintings and/or Posters, 51%, up from 47%
  • Knick-Knacks, 47%, up from 37%
  • Flowers and/or Plants, 46%, up from 42%
  • Radios or CD Players, 41%, a decline from 50%
  • Wall Paint, 27%
  • Rugs, 16%, up from 10%.

The survey is the second part of a three-part study meant to determine what workers use to personalize their workspaces and how corporate culture impacts these changes. The third part is expected out in September.