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Is Bigger Better? Office Politics and Working Real Estate Space

“What are you doing in Frank’s office,” I ask Bob who is staring at the overhead light fixture. Startled, he quickly looks down. I continue to tease him, “What is this? A meditation room? What are you doing?”

Bob mumbles, “Counting.”

“Counting what?” I ask.

Bob takes a second, takes a breath and confesses, “ceiling tiles.”

It takes me almost a minute, then I realize what Bob is doing: he’s measuring the size of his office against Frank’s. Bob’s anger replaced his embarrassment. He realizes he has a smaller office. They were equal on the org chart and at the same pay grade, but not equal in square footage. It was important.

I was now to get more practice in the anger management of a staffer who felt slighted. It was my turn to mumble, “Oh no…I’m sorry…this was the best we could do in allotting the limited space to our dedicated people…we attempt to be fair, but sometimes things are not perfect…” It was the truth. But I knew exactly how Bob got his crappy office.

I assigned it to him.

Bob didn’t notice that Frank also had a breath-taking view of the city. Bob’s smaller window overlooked the parking lot. And I knew that, too …

For all my platitude-ing, Bob was one of those employees who would be forever aggrieved. I spoke of ‘dedicated people’ and Bob was not one of them. He was a subpar performer who delivered all that was asked—and nothing more. His evaluations were “satisfactory.” His office was satisfactory.

I did not have much margin in my budget. But there are always methods to acknowledge the superstars. I allocated the trappings of stature to those who exceeded expectations.

Bob Fryling who is the Publisher and Vice President of InterVarsity Press, writes in “The Leadership Ellipse“:

“Jealousy and ego also affect how we gauge our perceived importance in daily organizational life … Cabinet officers to President Richard M. Nixon used a tape measure to see whose office was bigger and whose office was closer to the Oval Office.

“How petty.

“However, how many of us have also done the same thing mentally (if not with a tape measure)? If someone is closer to organizational power than we are, we know it and feel it. The challenge is what do we do with that knowledge and those feelings? How do we face down the giant of ego and jealousy?”

Appearances count. The number of ceiling tiles is a clue on how much power an individual can exercise. The bigger the office, the greater the perceived power to influence and to lead — even across my modest organizational structure. Power gets things done.

These things matter. Except when they can’t and don’t.

Ancient Rome understood how size and looks mattered and how leaders employed a presence. The first Roman emperor, Augustus (27 BC to 14 A.D.) did not need the external appearances of power. Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-In Chief of Forbes Media, writes in “Power Ambition Glory,”

“Although there was no doubt that Augustus was the boss, he was careful to avoid the title and trappings of a monarch—which he realized went against the Roman grain and had cost Julius Caesar his life.

“Augustus wore neither a crown nor the robes of a king. A simple broad-brimmed woven straw hat that had shielded him from the harsh rays from the Mediterranean summer sun signaled to his subjects his simplicity and modesty.

“He projected the image of a reluctant “care-taker” of the empire, a leader motivated by a desire to serve and to uphold the principles of Republican government.”

However reluctant the small business owner might act to be as a caretaker of your empire, do not give up your seat of power in the corner office. You are no Caesar Augustus. And no Andy Grove.

Grove understood the egalitarian culture of Silicon Valley. He had an 8 x 9 foot cubicle when he was CEO of Intel, manufacturer of computer chips. We mere mortals cannot pull off this level of leadership without some cosmetic help.

It is true that good arguments can be made for open office space where everyone is “equal.”

But remember — the work office is a seat of power to get things done.

View Image via Shutterstock


Jack Yoest

Jack Yoest John Wesley (Jack) Yoest Jr., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America. His expertise is in management training and development, operations, sales, and marketing. Professor Yoest is the president of Management Training of DC, LLC. A former Captain in the U.S. Army and with various stints as a corporate executive, he also served as Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Resources in the Administration of Governor James Gilmore of Virginia.

28 Reactions

  1. Aira Bongco

    I think it cannot be prevented. Even if you give them equal space, they will still find something to complain about if he is the complaining type – he has to resolve the jealousy by himself. He has to see that it will not get him anywhere.

  2. Jack Yoest

    Aira, you are right — there seems to be an inverse proportion.

    It is interesting how the best people never complain — but management is most sensitive to their needs.

    Marginal performers are forever complaining and management is less concerned with their complaints.


  3. Madalaina D'Angelo

    It’s interesting to think that the bedroom-saying “size matters” can apply even to the workforce world, that a person’s power has to be personified in the physical instead of the work produced. My boss at the bar I work at shares an office with the two assistant managers and his secretary, yet when he walks into any part of the bar or complex he commands attention and respect and his authority as manager owner is projected– he doesn’t need a fancy suit or car or large office. But I can understand using offices or bonuses or heck, even a parking spot as incentives to better performance and moral, and how the bigger office can also be a showing of power and can be respected as such in certain workplaces or job industries.

  4. Catherine Warchot

    I think that in the business world, it is important to be a “team player.” That means not letting your ego get in the way of doing your best work not being jealous of your coworkers and their successes. Instead of sitting around and wasting time measuring office sizes, Bob should have been doing the best work he could do. And if he was so upset by the size of his office, he should see that as a source of motivation for him to do better work so that he could get a nice office too. He should have also realized that a nice office is not something that has a “right” to, it is a privilege that he must work towards.

  5. Ego and jealousy is unavoidable in many aspects of life. In the business world an employees ego could make or break him or her. A below average employee who has the ego of a CEO can really bring down office moral because of their attitude and self importance. A manager can only do so much to try and prevent any incidents of jealousy and ego much like the manager in the article tried to do with the offices. The only other thing the manager could have done with Bob was to tell him point blank that he did not deserve the office. Some employees are delusional and that delusion can not be reversed. The team aspect of business is often lost with ego and the role of a manager is often reduced to just trying to manage the egos of the office and that can be done by using modest actions, but also requiring those around them to respect their authority and use effective communication.

  6. The reality of business as is in life is that people’s ego play key roles in their work and life performance and demeanor. Today’s “trophy for everyone” society has fostered the desire of glorified titles and perks for the workplace, and the “mine is bigger than yours” concerns. Achievement does not create sufficient satisfaction for many workers unless a superficial reward is attached. For me, I do not need the titles, the big offices, or the up-close parking spots; however, I will quietly take an increase in pay!

  7. Leanne Robinson

    Jealousy and ego play a major role in everyone’s lives. Regardless of how selfless a person is, there will come a time in their life that they feel as if they have a chip on their shoulder. The reality of the business world today is that people need to toughen up. By learning to compartmentalize superficial rewards, a worker can reach his or her full potential and maybe eventually receive those perks. That being said, if Bob is a sufficient worker, he does not go out of his way to impress anyone, and after many attempts to break him out of his shell, a manager can realize that Bob will always only do what is asked of him, and nothing more. This is why Frank deserved the better office, if a worker goes out of his way as an employee not seeking entitlement, he is genuinely passionate about his job. This kind of employee is the one who deserves to “get the trophy”. Frank was a power player, and he deserved to be viewed that way. Respect starts at the bottom, maybe if Bob realized that earlier he would have had the corner office with the view. Great read!

  8. Joseph Lasaracino

    Professional ability is the strongest attribute one can demonstrate in an office. The way you present yourself should be titled with composure and confidence. When a leader, especially a manager faces a crises, it is in those moment when he or she exemplifies perseverance. In the case of the Hurricane Katrina incidence relating to business, it is fine to be emotional and passionate, but one must be able to rally and unify people to work towards a common goal. Image is a vital quality, and displaying that to your colleagues allows others to admire and approach their image in identical ways.

  9. Mary Margaret Sheridan

    I liked this article because it shows how perks like office space can influence employees. This quote, I feel, conveyed the message of the article well, “However, how many of us have also done the same thing mentally (if not with a tape measure)? If someone is closer to organizational power than we are, we know it and feel it. The challenge is what do we do with that knowledge and those feelings? How do we face down the giant of ego and jealousy?” What you do with those feelings of inadequacy define who you are as an employee. Do you get discouraged that someone might be excelling more than you, or do you use that to incite personal change to be better? Do you let it motivate you or deter you? You have to earn your spot at your company and earn your seat in your office.

  10. I think that this phenomenon is unavoidable. We are power hungry animals and we feel threatened when we see someone of similar status have something better than us. I think that one possible way to maybe decrease this is to put efforts forward to encourage people to find happiness within their stature. We are competitive and greedy and will always want something better than we have. This problem will forever plague industries but through careful evaluations of their employees and with certain measures being taken we could possibly decrease the severity of it.

  11. I think people in the workplace, and really in all aspects of life, need to remember that it is not all about “me.” It is not about “my” office size, “my” window overlooking the city, “my” fancy car, “my” expensive suit. It is about working together to achieve the goal of the company and working for the common good to better society. What really matters is who you are inside and how you can best contribute to better the company overall. If someone thinks that can only be done in a large corner office, they belong on the street corner looking up at that office because their priorities are not straight and they are not positively contributing to the business. Jealously is only going to hurt personal performance in the workplace and personal values in life. Although it is unavoidable, the good worker must try to avoid it at all costs. She must focus on the company as a whole and how she can best contribute to that, as a result bettering society and working toward the common good.

  12. If Bob wanted a bigger and better office than why did he seemingly not want to perform at a level above satisfactory? I think that’s his main issue. It was not what his coworker was doing, it was what he was doing. I think that can be lost in the workplace sometimes. People can overlook doing their work for the benefit of the company and instead make everything about beating out the guy in the cubicle or office next to them.

  13. I believe that looking for things to complain about is a sign of a bad worker. There are certain people that will always find something to complain about no matter what. These people think that everything should always go their way and whenever it doesn’t they will point fingers to anyone else bu themselves. A true leader never looks for someone else to take the blame and is accountable for themselves. A true leader also does not let jealousy cloud their judgment. The size of a room is irrelevant and complaining about that is just looking for trouble. The differences in the sizes of the rooms probably wasn’t even intentional.

  14. Appearances almost always have an impact whether consciously or subconsciously, many people tend to equate their physical ‘domain’ with their status, whether it be their homes cars or offices. Additionally the difference in office sizes may affect the motivation of these two different employees, apparently Frank may have recognized that the additional effort he exerted resulted in additional benefits, whether financial or spatial, and your observation of Bob’s discovery may indicate that he too recognizes the difference in office sizes. It is important to note that Bob’s reaction may indicate that he does not truly understand the difference that effort rewards employees and may simply recognize, as many of us do, that he has been slighted rather than that Frank deserved the better space.

  15. Josephine Livingston

    Once again I am reflecting before living this life of leisure. It always amaze me how upper management (Director, Second Line Manager) is concern about having an large office and one with a view. They assume their title mean that they are entitle and this is one of their many perks. Those who have the attitude, “I have arrive” are never satisfy, complain and want more. Whether their work area is in a cubicle or office (with the door close), their focus should be getting the work done and completed. Letting our “ego” fester, causes so much jealousy, bitterness, as well as a hostile environment, and the size of the office space in not the focus, its the know how and skills one possess to complete the job. No one own anything on job, correction, if you touch the job/project which needs to be done, guess what, you own it! The reward is not the size of your space, its getting the work done as a “team” and the greatest reward is reaching its goal to ensure customer satisfaction!

  16. As sad as it is, in reality the person who gets the better office is not necessarily the one who does the best job as much as it is the favorite among those who have the most power. Not only does a person need to be a top performer, he needs to be the top performer and favorite personality or, even more precisely, the one in whose favor the currently powerful want to be. If they don’t like the person, at least they want the person to like them. Right?

    I, personally, do not like that kind of thing. It’s like high school cliques, just annoying and petty. Those who do the best job should be rewarded. But, I guess that it is the way of the world. Perhaps there is no choice but to participate or perish. Perhaps it is really a secret incentive plan: do an awesome job AND make the “cool kids” love you, and you will get company benefits AND the secret menu benefits, such as a bigger office. I have a feeling, though, that in this secret incentive plan, performance may not be fairly evaluated, and incentives and are not necessarily based on performance.

  17. One of the biggest flaws of mankind is the looking at “what others have”. It is true sometimes in reality the people behind the scenes who make the big decisions might favor a person who has worked less hard than another. However it can be said that this type of “evaluation” is not based on performance or even through fair methods. In fact, it relies solely on the connections that the person has and how they are viewed. The issue that can begin to rise is the jealousy and or confusion when it comes to the promotion that the person was given. Others might view that move as unfair since the person might not have worked as hard as the rest. This would cause an uneasy work environment and create a hole in the trust the employee has with the incentive system. I try to always go by the idea that what others have is what they earned; I pay no attention to who has better things. That however, might be tough for other people to comply with when they deem something as unfair.

  18. Sadly, this stuff matters, and I believe that it always will. People are so worried about what others have and get jealous when someone else has more than them. Although both offices are the same size, Bob thinks that the Frank’s office is a better than his. If I was in your shoes I would have done the same thing. Why reward Bob if his work was only satisfactory. It would be a different story if Bob was a great employee that does everything right. I believe that the ones that do the job the right way should be rewarded. That should be the motivation to do a good job. As an early employer, I try and overachieve with everything I am doing, so that I am not in a position like Bob is in. Incentives are a great way to get your employers to work hard. When someone is happy, they are going to give you their best work. Therefore, reward those that will do this for your organization. I always work 110% always is so important because you never know whose watching. Therefore, if I want that corner office with more ceiling tiles than Bob one day, I will be rewarded when the time comes.

  19. Mary-Christina Onyeocha

    “These things matter. Except when they can’t and don’t.” Seeing the scenario of this office politics from the windows of the above quote, one could see that, it is broadly divided into two parts. Now, Bob is still an actor entertaining himself and his audience on Part I of the drama “when these things matter.” It takes a charismatic team playing leader to pull Bob out of this cloudy outlook of self-worth and achievement; probably, gently and diplomatically. If, unfortunately, the manager/leader is still a-stage-one-actor (in the same boat with Bob), this kind of petty jealousy possibly builds-up destructive-sticky swamps for Bob, the manager, and the organization at large. Reading through the lines, it could be analyzed that Frank seems to be an insider of the manager’s authority while Bob plays the role of an outsider trying to exercise power without authority.
    The question is, how long would it take before Part II – “when these things can’t and don’t matter” begins? No one knows. Part I (when these things matter) might cause short-term, intermediate, or long-term damages before giving way to Part II (when these things don’t and can’t matter). To some extent, the managerial/leadership skills of the manager/leader could intervene and reduce the possible damages this office politics could cause. On the other hand, if Bob understands that, office space matter; but, side-by-side with his self-worth and what he could positively offer to organization, such things “can’t and don’t matter.”

  20. Jelena Cobanovic

    I think that you did a fair job with assigning the offices to Bob and Frank and I would have done the same thing. Since Bob’s work was only satisfactory, how can he be upset and compare his office space to Frank’s? I believe that no matter what jealousy in the workplace will always exist, but sometimes it is unfair when employees who choose to perform only average are complaining. If Bob was giving his very own best at the time and his hard work was showing off the results by helping the company achieve its goals, it would make a little more sense if he was unhappy and wanted to upgrade his office space. However, even then I believe employees should not complain about their work conditions and environment but try to focus on more important things such as doing the best they can at the tasks they have been assigned to and achieving the company’s short term and long term goals. Once they do that, the management staff might be able to somehow reward them and that way, they show that they recognize when someone works hard and perform above average. If the management staff at least acknowledge employees hard work, it will give them additional motivation to perform even better which in general leads to more successful and positive work environment.

  21. After reading this article, I noticed a trend; you get what you put in. In Bob’s case he was a satisfactory worker that did everything that was asked of him, so in result his office replicated what he put in. Frank, who was the same level of prestige as Bob, had a significantly better office than Bob. This is because Frank exceeds expectations by putting in more effort; resulting in him getting an office that exceeds expectations. Until reading this piece, I never thought about the significance between office size and power. Having a big space symbolizes the power to have an influence over others, in turn helps you get things done! There is also a fine line between abusing your power and using it for good virtue. Power can often be abused and it is up to the leader to have an understanding on how to use power without putting fear into one’s followers.

  22. I think on paper have offices where everyone is equal is a good thing but i worry about complacency setting in. The article mentions how we perceive the looks of things with value so it we attac more value we can use this as motivation to do better. If everyone is the exact same in the office then someone may not try as hard but the person with the shinny new office, the large windows has a status symbol. A symbol that says i work harder and better than you. You can leverage this into a competitive but respeful work environment

  23. As a child, my grandma hammered into my mind the phrase, ” You get bees with honey.” I took that into friendship, academia and my professional life.

    Although the above story did not say who had a “higher” position or more responsibilities ultimately, if I was a boss, I would reward those with the best attitudes, the most pleasant to work with before the ones with foul attitudes and with such practices as tile- counting. It would never cross my mind to do such a thing. One, because I do not care and two, as to not upset myself either. Lastly, suppose there has been a remodel or renovation and the tiles are sized differently. Not only would you be loud and wrong, but sound ungrateful.

    That person would be someone I overlooked as I assigned more power, gave promotions and raises because there would never truly be enough and they have no grace. Grace and tact take you places skill could not get you into.

    Having had dinner conversations with my parents for years, who were both Law Enforcement supervisors, I was blessed to come into the workforce with a huge awareness of behaviors that stuck out for the worse and those that did for the better.

  24. Natalie M Barbieri

    Having a larger office space with a better view is a status symbol. With this in mind, bigger is better. Bigger symbolizes success in your company.

    My dad told me a story once. He said that when he was promoted, he received a corner office–it was a large space with larger windows on both sides. Sometimes he would stand by his windows and looked out onto the people 50 stories below walking around. When he retired, he told me that other employees were literally fighting over the space.

    I think that all employees want to look and feel successful. The feel of success comes from praise, raises, etc. Your boss telling you that you did a good job can brighten up a day. However, the look of success is also important. Some employees buy new clothes to look successful or a new car. But a new office really symbolizes success. Everyone sees it!

  25. In my opinion, the article shows the influence of how perks like office space. I think Bob’s anger replaced his embarrassment is natural feeling because he realized that he has smaller office. Many companies treat their employees equally if they are at the same pay grade, but unfortunately they are not equal in square footage. I feel that companies should be equal for square footage with their employees who are at the same position, in order to treat them equally treated. The article mentioned how we perceive the looks of thing with value so we can use this as motivation to do better in our work place. I believe that all employees want to be more successful because the feel of success comes from raises and praise. For example, if your manager telling you that you did a good job, that can brighten up a day. However, the feel of success is very important.

  26. Damilola Anjorin

    Open space does not guarantee that everyone will be treated equally and I do not believe it will limit Office politics. Someone is always going to be better, someone is always going to be smarter, there will always be preference. Even if everyone is in the same office space, everyone’s level of productivity will not be the same, neither will everyone have the same level of commitment. As mentioned in the article, “the bigger the office, the greater the perceived power to influence and lead” Jealousy and ego in the workplace exist in every organization and this is based on the individual that is affected regardless of how much provision is made available, instead of being jealous, we can seek to influence and always try to exceed expectation in our dealings.

  27. Veronica Cordova

    In any business environment employees will always be jealous of others. Jealousy is created when a person feels insecure or anxious about his/her importance or value to others. Especially, in the workplace when jealousy can cause problems inside the organization. Managers or CEO’s from companies should treat all employees equally. Praise all employees for a job well done instead of just a select few. Avoid favoritism and ask for opinions of all workers, instead of relying on a select few to prevent jealousy. Remember that resentment and jealousy can cause lack of teamwork. Organizations should not treat departments differently from each other. They all should work as one team. In conclusion, Managers should create a work team atmosphere and stop favoritism among from employees.

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