I was thinking this morning about an email I received Friday from a former coaching client who I worked with in 2019. The email simply read: “I can’t thank you enough for the helpful advice. I made a lot of the changes you recommended and it has made a significant difference in my mood and how I think about work. Much appreciated!”. He was referring to a Zoom call I had with him several weeks ago in which we caught up on life, family and work. He shared that he was feeling burned out with work and unmotivated, which was negatively affecting his family relationships and overall mental outlook. He is a senior executive with a well-known Atlanta-based company who splits time between his corporate office, a home office in his basement and a moderate travel schedule. I asked him a number of questions about the stress and pressure he was feeling, when I noticed the stark white undecorated walls of his home office behind him. Going with a hunch, I asked him to describe in great detail the room he was in.
He seemed surprised by my question, but shared that his basement office had a desk and chair, nothing on the walls, a few books, no photos and a window looking into his backyard. He said he used the office for work and nothing else…and his office at the corporate headquarters also mirrored this minimalist style. He asked me why I was interested and in response I shared a detailed description of my own home office. In contrast to his, my office has comfortable furniture (including my favorite reading chair) and is filled with dozens of my favorite books, several pictures of my wife and sons from our most memorable moments, framed maps of some of my favorite places, items my sons made when they were in school or bought for me over the years, crucifixes and religious art, and framed book covers of the books I have written over the years. The walls of my office…this sanctuary as I sometimes call it…are painted in warm colors and everything about the room is inviting, comforting and deeply personal for me.
When not visiting with clients at their offices or in restaurants, I do most of my work in this room and thousands of meaningful conversations with clients, friends and family have occurred within this special place. All of my books and blog posts were largely written in this space and it is where I feel most creative, peaceful and thoughtful. I love my job, but I especially love doing my work in this special workspace within my home. When I am stressed, feeling deflated, struggling with writer’s block or seeking motivation, I often only need to cast my eyes to precious memories represented by the pictures and objects scattered around this room to course-correct and get back on track.
Why does this matter? Back to my former client and his dilemma…
The burnout he is feeling certainly has a number of causes and this is not the only answer, but I encouraged him to do something about his work environment. I gave him a detailed description of my own home office and the joy and comfort it gave me as an example he could follow. The drab spaces at home and the corporate office he was working in were adding to his stress, lack of motivation and overall burnout. He didn’t enjoy or feel comforted and inspired by the spaces he was working in (and where he spent several hours a day) and I pointed out that this was an easy area to address which would likely have significant positive impact on the challenges he shared. He took my advice and with his family’s help, introduced the rich memories of his life through pictures and other personal things that mattered to him into his home office and did something similar at his other office. He sent me a picture of the dramatically different office spaces along with his email and I hope this change brings him the same level of satisfaction it brings me on a daily basis.
It doesn’t matter where you are in your professional life to begin imagining a better workspace for yourself. New college graduates just getting started to mid-career professionals to senior executives all have an opportunity to create an environment around them that inspires, motivates and comforts. If you work from home, sit in a cube or have your own company office, a few pictures, favorite books, a plant, beautiful art or treasured mementos can be the little spark of inspiration or source of comfort you need when you are feeling discouraged, stressed or unmotivated.
Here a four thoughts to consider if you are drawn to this idea:
Do what works for you! Make your environment personal and memorable. Fill it with things that matter to you that will bring you some joy, comfort or inspiration when you need it.
Use discernment. When addressing your cube space or corporate office, be mindful of company policies. These are generally not overly restrictive, but play by the rules (if there are any rules). This also applies to what appears behind you on screen if you work from home and do a lot of virtual calls. Just use common sense and if not sure, get feedback from a candid colleague on your chosen decoration. Be authentic, but smart.
Great conversation starter. Not only will you personally benefit in multiple ways from personalizing your workspace, but you will also initiate new levels of conversation with work colleagues as they comment on your pictures or other personal items. A personalized workspace is similar to extending a friendly invitation into your world outside of work. They will hopefully see your efforts as authentic and vulnerable which are foundational in building trusting relationships.
We live in challenging times. If you are struggling with stress, anxiety, burnout or any other aspect of mental health, the help and answers you may need will likely go well beyond your workspace. Don’t hesitate to get the help you need. The theme of this post is simply one helpful step of many to make work more enjoyable in these challenging times.
Some of the most fulfilled, joyful and successful people I have encountered in my life pay careful attention to their environment and surround themselves at work in their own unique ways with the suggestions I have shared in this post. In the coming week, reflect on your own work environment. Based on this post, could you also stand to make some changes? Give it a shot and I think you will appreciate the results.