Feb 20, 2014

Creating Beauty at Work Is Everyone's Job

Recently, as I walked around the fourth-floor office where I work, I noticed a co-worker carefully pinning red and pink cardboard hearts to the outside walls of her cubicle a few minutes before starting time. Another lady I work with regularly brings in an inflated helium balloon coordinated with the seasons and holidays. And our Human Resources Director almost always has a bouquet of fresh flowers or a live flowering plant on her desk - a gift from her husband to brighten up the office.

Cardboard hearts, helium balloons, and fresh flowers have nothing to do with our work, though. We work at a medical billing company, not a florist’s shop. So why do my colleagues spend their own time and money to spruce up the office? To put it simply, they want to work in a beautiful place.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us want that: a workplace filled with beautiful things. But what good are cardboard hearts on cubicle walls if the 8-10 hours we spend working each day leave us feeling uninspired, unconnected, and unappreciated? In other words, creating beauty at works starts by valuing people, by investing in relationships, and by feeling like your life is valued above your work.

More Than Just Cardboard Hearts

At The High Calling, we are exploring this theme of creating beauty at work with a collection of articles and reflections. In her essay, “A Beautiful Workplace Starts by Investing in People,” Jen Petro talks about the recent Gallup polls that indicates most people aren’t so enamored with their work life.

“Simply put, we’re not treating people as people,” Petro writes. “Why? It takes time. It gets messy. It means shifting focus from tasks, deadlines, and goals, to investing in one another. But it’s raw and real work that has to be done for an organization to cultivate beauty—and to succeed.”

Sometimes, the onus is on the individual to invest in their own work lives, to create beauty even when it’s not so obvious how.

“When I was hired, I found my job description rather unsatisfactory,” Matt Appling confesses in his High Calling essay, “Restoring Wonder in the Workplace.” He can’t be the first one to feel that way about a job. But what he does next turns an unattractive work life into something inspiring. “I wanted to do much more than what was being asked of me. So I did those things. I didn’t ask anyone. I just did them. And after some time, I rewrote my own job description, editing out the undesirable parts and replacing them with job duties I had made up myself. In doing so, I not only created my own dream job, but made myself much more indispensable to the company.”

But why does it matter if our workplaces are pleasing? Why do we need to feel connected and appreciated? Why is it important that we be allowed to hang paper hearts on our cubicle walls?

According to Makoto Fujimura, in his article, “How Creative Catalysts Help Us Create Beauty in our Workplaces,” the answer lies deep within us, even though modern work culture often works against it.

“In our pragmatism, beauty and art have been exiled to the peripheral realities of our culture and our business environments,” Fujimura writes. “Yet, human beings cannot live for a long time in a place bereft of beauty. We hunger for beauty if we are robbed of it. What I mean by beauty is not in the cosmetic, superficial form of attraction, but the depth of beauty that all human beings need, as true beauty nurtures our deepest longings. That beauty, I believe, flows out of love.”

And as we love others, the work we do becomes an expression of the beauty that was first woven into us by love. Emily P. Freeman writes about this in her Daily Reflection, “The Art of Your Work.”

“The beauty you have to offer may not be a song or a flower or a dance. And you may not see the beauty in a spreadsheet or the carpool line or the proposal you’ve been working on. But the true art, the most beautiful kind, is you – worshipful, generous, small you,” Freeman writes.

What Others Are Saying

The High Calling is not the only place where people are talking about creating beauty at work. In the July 2, 2013, Huffington Post article, “Workplace Improvements: How To Make Your Space More Enjoyable,” author Matthew D. Della Porta, talks about “employee wellbeing” and the growing belief that improving workplaces “isn't just a nice thing to do for employees -- it helps the company bottom line in numerous ways, such as increased job satisfaction, productivity and morale, in addition to reducing turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism.” He elaborates on the American Psychological Association’s five components of a psychologically healthy workplace, including “employee involvement,” or helping staff members “feel competent and at least partially in charge of their own work responsibilities.”

In other cases, the company culture benefits from innovative leadership hierarchy or creative organizational structure. In “How to Build a Beautiful Company” as told to Leigh Buchanan, artist and entrepreneur Bill Witherspoon talks about the importance of creating a company from the people up. “In a company, you create it with the addition of each talented, engaged person and with each thoughtful act,” he says in the 2010 interview that was too good not to mention here. Hire people who will help grow your company, then provide an “environment in which they would act like entrepreneurs, not like robots,” The Sky Factory founder says. “I started with the assumption that people are naturally curious and creative.”

While creating beauty at work is not just about the cardboard heart on the cubicle wall, sometimes, it does mean using the skills of a designer or architect, or taking advantage of organizational experts, to alter the physical surroundings of an office or other work area. In the March 14, 2013, Women’s Agenda article, “Latest home office trends: How to create a beautiful work from home space,” author Tatyana Leonov offers several designs of home workspaces that are “an extension of your home and your personality.” And if the budget is what keeps you from upgrading your work space, Business Insider Australia offers a few ways to spruce up your work area on the cheap in their December 17, 2013, article, “Five Cheap, Easy Ways To Create A Beautiful Workplace.”

Finally, when I was a corporate trainer, I added some inspirational posters to the walls to help create the kind of workspace I thought would be conducive to learning. Turns out I was following a long tradition. In Slate’s August 31, 2013, “The Colorful Posters That Motivated Jazz-Age Workers To Strive,” Rebecca Onion writes about the 1920s artwork that encouraged efficiency by promoting “interpersonal workplace behavior” modeling “self-discipline, loyalty, honesty, and diligence.”

Charity Singleton Craig is a content editor for The High Calling, a contributing writer for Tweetspeak Poetry, and a staff writer for Curator Magazine. She grew up on an Indiana farm and now lives with her husband and three step-sons across the street from another Hoosier corn field.

 Image by Darlene. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. 

Creating Beauty at Work

This article is part of The High Calling series, Creating Beauty at Work. While brightly painted walls or sleek, modern furniture might lighten our mood and inspire creativity, investing in the people we work with, helping them to bring the best of who they are and caring about them even when they can’t, is at the heart of a beautiful workplace. Are you or someone you know feeling a little lackluster about your work environment? Before you buy a new framed print for the wall, try complimenting your cubicle mate or saying thank you to the janitor. Or start a conversation with a coworker by emailing or sharing one of the articles in our series.

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