…Nor iron bars a cage. Richard Lovelace won’t mind us coining his most famous lines, will he? This recent news story about employers who go too far by turning their cubicles into cells has a poetic feel to it. Employees at a Florida law firm responded to their employer’s heavy handed anti-socialization policy by wearing orange shirts to work (to mimic prison inmates). Six were fired for this “offense”. One of the policies the workers were allegedly protesting was the prohibition on speaking to one another over their cubicle walls – even when the conversations were work related.
Naturally, the terminated workers are suing their employer. It seems like a law firm would know that firing employees for protesting working conditions is illegal according to the National Labor Relations Act. It’s considered ‘union-busting’ whether there’s a union in place or not. It does make you wonder what was actually going on that would prompt the employer to attempt to institute such restrictive policies in the first place. If productivity is low, it’s a sign that engagement is suffering. Dealing a death blow to morale isn’t exactly the smartest move in that situation. It makes a lot more sense to find out what workers need (physically and emotionally) to do their jobs more effectively and then find creative ways to meet those needs.
We’re in favor of increasing cubicle wall heights to cut down on unwanted distractions. But forbidding cross-cubicle communication is obviously counterproductive – it’s enforcing isolation rather than providing privacy. Employees should always feel that they can turn to a coworker for collaboration on a work project to increase productivity and effectiveness. That’s one good reason to talk to your employees about the best placement for cubicle panel extenders. They can tell you which walls need to be higher to block out unnecessary sights and sounds and which ones (if any) they like lower to allow easy communication with helpful neighbors.