Ah, the cubicle. At least to me, this is one of the main symbols of corporate “bad for you, good for us” mentality. Even though every major study shows that everything from productivity to workplace health takes a nose-dive with cubicles, still they are a mainstay of the corporate environment landscape.
If you are anything like me, cubicles have the unique ability to make you miserable. Sort of like a playpen for grown-ups, we are put in our little enclosures so that we cannot get into too much trouble. Everything is built to be confining, yet open. Confining so that square footage can be maximized, and open so that management can keep an eye on what you are doing in your little cubby all day.
We are put into these right-angle boxes, ostensibly, to keep us focused and integrated. However, I have always found that working in a cubicle actually accomplishes the opposite. Since the environment is open, I am always leery to have long conversations with co-workers, since this would surely be a distraction to everyone else. Additionally, with all of the other conversations and phone calls that are going on, it is not hard to have your office be a daily recreation of Office Space. “Corporate accounts payable, Nina speaking, just a moment…”
What really kills me about cubicles, other than how automatically demoralizing they are, is that I know I am not as effective as I can be. Maybe I am a bit of an odd duck, but I come to work to work, and I work best when I can focus, and I can focus the best when things are quiet and without distraction. And even when cubicle environments are like this, the quietness makes them spooky. I don’t know what it is, but there is just something about sitting in a room with 50-100 other people in dead silence that seems quite alien and disconcerting.
When I walk into an office building and see 80% of the staff stuck in cubicles (thus creating a built-in enclosed office caste system), I see a company that does not really value their employees as their most important resources. I see a company that treats people just well enough to keep them from fleeing. I see a company that views their employees as being something akin to agricultural commodities, rather than human beings.
So, if this is your situation, and you are stuck in a cubicle, I would ask you if there are other options for you out there. More and more, companies are waking up and realizing that a major key to success is attracting top-shelf employees (and treating them as such), but sadly these companies are usually small and in the minority.
Since we are in a downturn, maybe you feel like you have no other option, and should just be glad you have a job. But, I would ask, is the misery you are finding with your current job really just trying to get you to do something different? Even if you have tried to find another job, is now the time to create your own job? Especially if you work in a technical field, now is an incredible time to start a business (or join a startup you can do in your spare time). There are so many tools out there, and the Internet has been an incredible equalizer, bringing the possibility of being in business for themselves to more and more new people every day.
Sometimes we do not move until things get really bad for us, but it does not have to be this way. Is there something you always wanted to do? Do you have your ear to the ground with regard to new opportunities? If you are miserable, sometimes just realizing you have other options can be incredibly powerful. Sometimes we find ourselves immobilized by our misery, and just by realizing that you have options (almost everyone always has at least a few options) can empower you to get moving. And, even if you are just working on something you want to do in your spare time, your time in your cubicle can become a lot more pleasant. Nothing in this life is permanent, and if you can at least be working towards something better, the misery can (and will) lift.