How Does Beauty Matter? An Exploration of Employee Perceptions of Office Aesthetics

Elizabeth Siler

This dissertation has been moved to the following series:


Buildings make it possible for people to work together in organizations. In organization studies research, the physical aspects of organizations have been neglected in favor of intangible aspects (Gagliardi, 1996; Strati, 1999). Much of the research in management and organizational studies about physical workplaces concentrates on the instrumental aspects of offices, such as the relationship between open-plan offices and employee attitudes and behaviors (e.g. Hatch, 1987; Oldham, 1988), but it does not address the aesthetic aspects of offices. The physical workplace is part of the field of organizational aesthetics, which encompasses a range of topics and theoretical approaches, from aesthetics as a way of knowing organizations to the arts and related industries. This study explored the importance of aesthetics--beauty or its lack--in the day-to-day lives of people in organizations by exploring individuals' meanings of and experiences of their offices. At the same time, it examined the relationship between aesthetics and instrumentality of the physical workplace. How do office aesthetics matter in the way that work gets done in an organization? This study used Q-methodology (Brown, 1980; Stephenson, 1953) to explore individuals' experiences of their physical workplaces. Aesthetics and instrumentality were connected through site selection. Sites were chosen based on their combination of good/bad aesthetics and good/limited functionality. Twenty-one participants in four locations were interviewed about their offices--what they liked and disliked, and why. From the interviews, a Q-sample of statements was developed, and 19 participants sorted them into a normal distribution from "most like my opinions of my office" to "most unlike my opinions of my office." The sorts were factor analyzed and interpreted using statement content, demographic characteristics of participants, and information about the organizations and participants that was learned through the interviews. The resulting four factors gave four different perspectives on office aesthetics. One group of participants loved their work and saw their offices as an avenue of self-expression, an extension of themselves. Another group experienced considerable emotional distress because their offices did not reflect the quality of their organizations' work. For a third group, functionality was primary. For the last group, the office stood in for the organization as a whole-- their feelings about their workspaces mirrored their feelings about their organization.