Don’t let the sofas fool you; work can still be red in tooth and claw

Herbert James Draper: Ulysses and the sirens

Herbert James Draper: Ulysses and the sirens

We keep filling our workplaces with sofas, coffee shops and other lifestyle touches while our homes are being slowly eroded by the trappings of work. First it was the fax machine. Then the mobile phone. Then working from home. The places available for us to work is seemingly more diverse than ever. But does this acknowledged trend towards domesticity make the workplace a kinder, gentler place? Maybe on the surface but beware to those who dare succumb to the siren song of these things. Using them could mean the end of your career.A recent conversation I had with an executive highlighted the problems inherent in the mixed messages this “softening” of the work environment brings.

A young lad had gone to sleep in one of the lounge chairs in their offices – an area particularly designated for de-stressing. There was no clarifying of the reason why he was asleep – if caught up in a marathon tender return, it might have been justified – if caught out because of a massive hangover, maybe not. But it was the absolute glee with which this “Executive” bragged about getting rid of this chap “before he could blink” that was so telling.

This is not a softer, gentler world, no matter how organic the sofa. This is a world where there is no turning off – not even at home. It isn’t surprising that torturers regularly use household implements and settings to terrorise their victims. Bathtubs, refrigerators, electric lamps – the list is endless as well as endlessly examined by psychologists. Giving someone a bed and not letting them sleep. Starving someone but letting them smell food.

Are we in danger of victimising those whom we tempt to the Shangri-La of a possible respite from the continuous onslaught of work? We’ve already given up our lunch hours, our final salary pensions and a myriad of other rights which people fought so mightily for. Do we still live in a culture that respects it’s citizens and protects them from the abuse of power that we know is possible; even possibly inevitable?

Perhaps we should try going back to working 9 to 5, taking a lunch hour, paying a fair days wage for a fair days work – and keep the sofas in our living rooms. Then maybe when we can go home, switch off our phones, put up our feet and spend some time with our families.

Now these claims may be exaggerated, this overheard story may not be true – and most of us thrive on the ability to manage where and when we work. But it is worth considering the impact these decisions have on our lives and the real messages that lie behind them. Like all symbols of a group, a sofa is only as relaxing as the culture that uses it. It isn’t the sofas fault! It is how it is used by those around it that makes it a weapon.

In the end we should probably keep some of this quaint domesticity for our staff. But maybe we should take on some of the softness, roundness and general comfort it brings into the daily interactions we have with our colleagues. You never know…it might make for a good day at work.


Twyla HowseTwyla Howse is a director of Workplace Consultancy N2ition. She can be contacted on 07791 199 829