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Create a More Successful Work Environment with Feng Shui

How do you feel at work? Are you energized, confident, and creative? Or do you feel bogged down, stifled, perhaps even threatened? Whether you occupy a corner office or are a cubicle dweller, the New Year is the perfect time to take a look around your workspace and make some simple changes that will get your energy flowing. The ancient Chinese art of feng shui can help.

Before you click away from this article because you’re worried that it may be too “out there” to be of interest, keep in mind that many main stream businesspeople and organizations have embraced the principles of feng shui. In a December 2007 article in the New York Times, Lisa Belkin wrote that some noted tech companies—Cisco Systems, Google, and Sun Microsystems—have begun knocking down partitions between cubicles to encourage creativity and the flow of energy. And many multinational companies that have had to model their Asian office spaces according to feng shui guidelines are successfully adopting the practices in their U.S. offices.

So just what is feng shui? Simply put, it is the arrangement of space to achieve harmony with one’s environment and a sense of individual well-being. Rosalie Prinzivalli, a former Wall Streeter with an MBA who is now a feng shui practitioner and teacher at the BTB Feng Shui Master Training Program in NYC, explains, “All of feng shui is practical. It has to do with how the environment affects us and how we respond to it.”

Although there are many different schools of feng shui, they share some basic principles. Here are some simple ways you can get your workplace “chi” (energy) flowing:
  • Get rid of the clutter. “Know what’s on your desk,” says Prinzivalli. “Clutter represents places where energy is stuck and can’t move forward. Try to move old projects along. If your projects get stuck, your career gets stuck.” Clutter also affects productivity, as it makes it difficult to find documents and information. File old documents out of sight. If you can’t throw away old files, pack them up and send them to a storage facility.

  • Keep it clean. Carolyn Gable, CEO of New Age Transportation, Distribution, and Warehousing in Lake Zurich, Illinois, called in a feng shui consultant to counteract flat sales. The first step was to move the desks apart, which exposed a surprising amount of dirt, dust, even old food. The offices were thoroughly cleaned to get rid of old, negative energy. Now employees wipe down their desks weekly and remove trash daily. They keep only current files on their desks. “Some positive changes have occurred since we implemented the feng shui recommendations,” says Jenny Talley, New Age’s VP of Operations and Sales. “The office is brighter and shinier. Everybody’s outlook just seems more positive and it’s a much better physical environment.”

  • Assume a “power” position. Here’s a tip Tony Soprano took seriously: Never sit with your back to the door. Although most of us don’t face the threat of actual physical violence in the workplace, sitting with your back to the door can make you feel psychologically vulnerable. “When an employee’s back is exposed, he doesn’t know who may be approaching or listening," says Prinzivalli. "The employee isn’t relaxed and productivity suffers.” If you can’t change your position, Prinzivalli suggests placing a small mirror on your computer, desk, or wall. Try also to avoid sitting directly under an overhead beam or at a desk that directly faces the building’s entrance door. If possible, do not place your desk directly opposite any door, nor in a position where it backs up against a window.

    Similarly, in a business meeting, avoid sitting with your body facing the corner point of a table. This is considered a “poison arrow” pointing right at you and can put you at a disadvantage.

    At New Age Transportation, because its customer service and truckload department just wasn’t “gelling,” the group was moved to a dedicated area upstairs, away from the rest of the employees. The move worked. Says Jenny Talley: “Revenues have increased, we’ve had some positive staff changes, and we just had a wonderful presentation to our largest account.”

  • Counterbalance the negatives. Unless you are the CEO, you probably won’t be able to create a perfect workplace environment. In addition to Rosalie Prinzivalli’s suggestion to place a mirror in your office, you can add a few items that are considered to be lucky:
    —Place fresh flowers or a small plant on your desk. Just be sure to throw away the flowers as soon as they start to wilt. And don’t choose a thorny cactus plant, since its spikes are considered threatening.
    —Place Chinese coins tied with red thread inside your office door to encourage money to flow in. A small bell hanging outside the door will attract good luck. Other beneficial items include wind chimes, bamboo, turtles, and crystals.
    —A small dragon figurine in your office will protect you from harmful influences.

    You can find lots of inexpensive feng shui items online, or you can visit your local Chinatown.

  • Take a walk. Obviously, many hours spent sitting in a small cubicle staring at a computer screen and a wall isn’t good for your psyche—or your eyes. “Sitting at a computer all day keeps people from thinking long-term and moving forward,” says Prinzivalli. “It makes you feel like you’ve hit a wall, both literally and figuratively.” It’s also hard on your eyes. Prinzivalli recommends getting up every hour or so and looking down a hallway to change your focus.

On a personal note, although I have inhabited many different workspaces throughout my career, one location stands out as the most inauspicious. I spent one year in a small, windowless room. I sucked it up, put my nose to the grindstone, and quietly did my work. When I look around my current workspace, a fairly spacious cubicle, I realize what an impact one's physical surroundings can have. I now sit near very positive and friendly colleagues, and I can see the vibrant world of New York City’s Times Square through a nearby window. I am happy to report that my outlook and productivity are now quite positive.

Since I began researching feng shui I have attempted to improve my work environment even more. Following New Age’s lead, I thoroughly cleaned my desk and got rid of a lot of the clutter. I moved a wood-framed family photo to an auspicious position on my desk (to the East), bought a beautiful feng shui wall hanging in Chinatown, and I keep a small, rubber turtle that was given to me in Hawaii on my desk. Is it helping? Well, a clean, aesthetically pleasing work environment certainly can’t hurt.

So, before you dismiss feng shui as pseudoscience and hocus-pocus, take a look around. If what you see doesn’t make you feel happy and raring to take on the challenges of the New Year, you may want to make some changes.

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.