Your Office Space Should Be Determined by Your Work (Not Your Pay Status)

I wanted to share with you an interesting conversation I had with a couple of human resources professionals about the upcoming changes to the overtime rule under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). One of the people in the group mentioned a challenge they were having, not because of the pay change, but because the employee impacted was going to have to move from an office with a door to a cubicle. And the employee was upset because they weren’t going to have a place to display their professional certificates.

Now before anyone thinks that where their professional certificates are displayed is a trivial matter, keep in mind that everyone views those professional accomplishments differently. I know people who have professional certifications and don’t show them on their business card. I also know people who have all of their certifications listed (yes, all of them.)

My take on the conversation was this – it’s exactly one of the reasons why employees who are impacted by the overtime change view it as a demotion. In this case, an organization has decided that office space is a perk. It’s not driven by the work you do; it’s determined by the way you are paid.

I get it. Office space gets more expensive every year. More employees are asking to work from home. So having an office with a door might be a premium and the company cannot give everyone an office. There needs to be some sort of criteria regarding who gets an office and who does not. The question becomes what’s the right criteria: pay status or work responsibilities. I lean towards using work as the differentiator.

I believe that this aligns with the growing conversation about open office spaces and productivity. Work spaces are supposed to increase productivity. This is about function over form. Yes, it’s possible to create workspaces that cool and fun too. But having a workspace that is great too look at but no one uses is a waste.

Let me quickly address the issue of the certificates. Organizations have to decide if part of their culture is for employees to feel like their office space should be like home – meaning a place to show off our accomplishments, pictures of the people and/or things that are important to us, etc. If it is, then companies have to figure out how to help employees when their office space changes. For example, is it possible to pay $20 and let employees customize a mug with their favorite images? It’s not exactly the same, but employees can have something personalized (and practical) for their space. I’m sure there are other ideas to consider.

As the business world changes, we have to challenge our thought processes. A decade ago, maybe it was okay to assign office space by pay status. Today, maybe we have to revisit that idea. Our job as HR professionals is to help the organization realize that changes need to be made and facilitate a conversation about the best options for the company.

Image taken by Sharlyn Lauby – not of her office – while attending the SHRM Annual Conference in Washington, DC