Survey Shows Decline in Workspace Personalization

Aug. 23, 2006
Steelcase Workplace Index Survey compares personalization in 1996 to 2006

On August 21st, Grand Rapids, MI-based Steelcase, a global manufacturer of office environments, revealed results of the second of a three-part Workplace Index Survey on the Nature of Work in 2006 conducted by Opinion Research Corp. (ORC). The study analyzes the trend of workspace personalization, what workers use to personalize, and how corporate culture impacts personal changes to the office environment.

The study targeted nearly 700 office workers in the United States and found that just over half (59 percent) of Americans personalize their workspace. A similar study conducted in 1996 identified that 85 percent of Americans decorate their workspace, revealing a decline of 26 percent over the past 10 years.

Why Workers Personalize    
1996    2006
To feel more at home            60%    63%
To express individuality          39%    56%

Why Workers Do Not Personalize
    1996   2006
Lack of space                                 26%   28%
Company does not encourage            42%   25%
No permanent space                        11%   35%
Share space                                   N/A*  37%
Don’t want to seem unprofessional     18%    17%
To avoid distraction                         N/A*   13%
To avoid damaging the walls             12%      6%
*Information not available from previous study

Why Less Personal Décor?
According to the study, there are various practical reasons for not decorating a workspace, many of which deal with the issue of space itself. Thirty-seven (37) percent of American workers share space with another, 35 percent do not have a permanent space, and 28 percent cited the lack of space to personalize. Other reasons cited for foregoing personalization included wanting to maintain a professional image (17 percent) and to avoid distraction (13 percent).

“At Steelcase, our goal is to gain deeper insights into the relationship between workers and the workplace. This study on personalization validates the notion that people are working differently and viewing space differently compared with 10 years ago,” says Chris Congdon, manager of corporate marketing for Steelcase. “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. We also see organizations creating shared spaces for employees who may not be highly mobile, but who benefit from co-location and collaborative work, making shared workspaces an effective tool.”

The survey also explores how age affects whether or not workers decorate their workspace. The likelihood of personalizing workspaces increases as age and income increases, making younger Americans less prone to personalize their office environment. Only 35 percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 personalize their workspace, compared to 62 percent of those 25 and older.

How Workers Personalize  1996    2006
Photographs                     69%    84%
Calendars                         N/A*   55%
Paintings and/or posters     47%    51%
Knick-knacks                    37%    47%
Flowers and/or plants         42%    46%
Radios or CD players           50%    41%
Wall paint                         26%    27%
Rugs                                10%    16%
Decorative lighting              N/A*   15%
*Information not available from previous study

Of those who do personalize their workspace, photographs (84 percent) are the favorite decorative choice. Regardless of gender, age, or geographic location, photographs have remained the most popular desktop accessory since 1996. Other popular decoration choices include calendars (55 percent), paintings or posters (51 percent), and “knick-knacks” (47 percent). The use of flowers or plants (46 percent) and wall paint (27 percent) remained consistent over the last 10 years.

The chief reasons respondents cite for decorating their workspace include “to brighten up the workspace” (68 percent), “to feel more at home” (63 percent), and “to express individuality” (51 percent).

The Workspace Index survey also examines whether companies encourage workspace personalization and found that only 40 percent actively encourage employees to decorate their workspace. In addition, the number of companies that promote personalization has decreased by 16 percent since 1996.

Steelcase conducts Workplace Index Surveys to uncover pertinent issues in today’s work environment. This continual workforce feedback is essential to the development of Steelcase’s information and expertise on the workplace, and to the company’s product development and corporate ventures aimed to increase effectiveness, efficiency, productivity, and environmental responsibility.

Results of the third part of the Nature of Work in 2006 series examine ergonomics, and will be unveiled in September 2006. Past survey results on productivity in the workplace, technology used in meetings, employee organization, and storage, as well as working on vacation, are available on Steelcase's website at (

This information was provided by and reprinted with permission from Steelcase, the global leader in the office furniture industry. The company designs and manufactures architecture, furniture and technology products. To find out more, visit (

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