Fridays are frequently Hawaiian Shirt Friday at Jeter, Cook & Jepson Architects in Hartford, Conn. For the occasion, architect and palm-tree lover Michael Waszkelewicz, 50, retrieves a shiny artificial palm tree from a closet and hangs it from the ventilation system above his cubicle.
The palm could be an oddity, but it isn't. Waszkelewicz's cubicle is filled with live plants, diminishing the prominence of the fake tree. Covering one partition of the cubicle are postcards from Florida (with palm trees) and pictures of more palm trees. It appears Waszkelewicz likes the green stuff.
"It's calming; it makes you feel nice," he says, adding lightly, "The oxygen helps, too."
Cubicle space, much like the invisible personal space people create around them, is a conjured room giving the illusion of privacy and individuality in the workplace. The definition of what makes a cubicle an ideal work space varies from person to person and from profession to profession.
"As architects, designers, artists, it's nice to be able to express artistic freedom in your space," Waszkelewicz said.
Cubicles are like a second home for some, and they decorate them as such. Waszkelewicz, for instance, says his home decorations are much like his cubicle's. Others think of their cubicles as strictly related to work and keep their office space devoid of family photos or personal trinkets.
"Some people really distinguish their home life from their offices," says Steven Schiavo, professor of psychology at Wellesley College. Schiavo conducted research on faculty offices at Wellesley and found that professors who decorated their offices were more attached to their workplace and, therefore, made it more homelike.
"Decoration is really tied into a sense of ownership -- this is my space; this is my territory," Schiavo says.
In a cubicle environment, which offers less privacy, decorations are also a way of making a connection with others, he explains. Called "impression management," decorating a visible space is a way to showcase what one wants to reveal about oneself.
"You might say that the person in the cubicle is doing it not just for herself or himself but for the visitor of the cubicle," says Rhoda F. Green, a New York City organizational consultant specializing in career and business planning.
This may be why some companies restrict how individuals can decorate their cubicles: Companies feel they must uphold a professional atmosphere to reflect the company's philosophy, especially for visitors.
Cubicle decorations are expressions of individuality, Green says, and people feel a need to express themselves at work, just as they do at home.
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