In 2021 I quit working in an architecture firm and I needed to do some other work for a while. I decided to go work in a supermarket. Even though I learned so much at that place and gained a lot of experience, I am also happy to not have to go in every day in that workplace. It was an old building and had been renovated a couple of times before over the course of 50 years, twice or so.
I went in every day working a uniform. I was wearing a men’s shirt because they ran out of women’s shirts. I was wearing protective shoes and all in all I didn’t really feel like myself. Imagine how a working day at this supermarket would feel like:
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You enter the building at 6.30 am, ready to start your shift. The tiles haven’t had an update since 1970 and there are a lot of tiles loose, broken, or repaired with some sort of cement. Because the building was that big and because there’s a huge (unused) parking lot on top of the building, there was no natural light in the store nor in the staff rooms.
Before your shift starts, you go to the bathroom first where you pull up your nose because of the smell of the old toilets, most of them are broken. At 7am you’re ready to get started.
You go downstairs and it’s either super cold or super hot. Especially in your department where they are selling electronics, the air conditioning is broken (this results in less people checking out the products because they literally cannot stand walking around there).
You go in the back through '“fire resistant” doors, but those doors are unable to close and have no system for closing off when there would be a fire going on.
You log into the computer so that by the time a customer would need your help, the computer would be kind of ready to be used (15-30 minutes if it doesn’t crash).
You look for a working stock screener device to start filling up those shelves. Without having the device the chance of making mistakes is big, especially when you haven’t been working long enough in the supermarket. You either find one which is broken, or you find one which is lagging extremely.
Some isles have flickering lights which give you headaches occasionally. Especially on long days with no natural light coming in.
You cannot deny that this working space wouldn’t have an impact on my well-being, productivity and the quality of my work. I’ve had often times where I was so frustrated because of my surroundings that I found it sometimes hard to put up a smile and guide clients in the supermarket to the right isle if they were looking for something.
At several points during the summer times we had peaking temperatures in our supermarket area + stock. Ironically the thermometer was broken so I got one out of the shelves. It says 30°C, 86°F. In these circumstances we had to be able to work really hard, move heavy objects like tables, parasol bases, watertanks, barbecues, swimming pools,.. My colleagues weren’t too happy about it, and it showed. It showed in engagement, morale, energy, and so on.
(A big shoutout to people who have to work almost daily in hot/cold circumstances! Thinking of roofers, building contractors, garbage (wo)men, cooks, ..)
Why renovating/ rethinking your workspace is important
When you are able to create the right (physical) parameters for your company, you will see that employee engagement will flourish. This is a catalyst for many powerful things:
Employee engagement improves work culture, reduces turnover, increases productivity, builds better work and customer relationships, and affects profits. High employee engagement also turns workers into your best advocates.
I’m not saying that changing only the physical workspace will help boosting these listed benefits above, but it is all connected and part of it.
Imagine having an off day, you’re feeling down, moody, you have problems at home,.. Going into work and having natural light or sunshine doesn’t take away your concerns, but it helps. And going into work and not see daylight.. well that doesn’t help.
In the text above you also see I refer to fire resistant doors. Unfortunately there were many other things in which you could see that the safety of the building/ workspace wasn’t ensured. Besides boosting employee engagement and morale, it is important to renovate your working space to remain up to date with workplace safety standards. A renovation every 10 years makes sure your clients, employees and your building overall remains safe to be in.
When an employee notices the safety standards aren’t followed and that certain areas of the work involves unsafe actions, they will feel not respected, seen, appreciated. There are many ways to show appreciation to your staff, but giving a free brunch every two weeks won’t do the trick.
So update your surroundings. Embellish your surroundings. It makes us feel better, safer, happier and this results in better quality, better atmosphere, better customer relationships,..
We also embellish our homes, don’t we? So why not our working places?
what are your thoughts on this?
Feel free to comment and we can discuss it!
Thank you for reading.
This was a great post and it would be awesome to see more from you from your Architect lens on how people can be the architect of their life in so many ways. :)
I love what you captured from your experience and perspective and how it impacted you. Mindset is a big part of making the most out of circumstances. That is something we have the power to design internally too.
I also beleive embellishing our surroundings is so important and love doing this for my home and work environment and even when I stay at a hotel! :) I've also been doing more inner work and look for ways to embellish or enhance my thoughts and feelings in empowering positive ways.
This instantly made me think of my fiance Stefan who started working at a local supermarket in high-school through college in the 70s in one of the worst areas of Detroit. Where he was a child of immigrants who survived WWII in Poland
Perhaps their gritt for what they had experienced and gratefulness to have made it to America made them not be as impacted by the challenges they faced as a family here.
Stefan bonded with the owner of the store and ended up managing it. And faced many hard times there including being held up by gunpoint. But he looks back at that time so fondly from what he learned, who he learned and almost every dollar saved.
It helped him have enough to start his own business and now owns several successful ventures.
And he still bags his own groceries and stocks our cupboards and fridge at home with glee. As of today I've heard at least 20 fond memories and stories of his time there down to how much pride he had keeping the floors so clean they glowed and different things he did to help them be successful and how much the staff was like family.
Physical and emotional environment is everything. Its amazing how different your two experiences were because of those two factors. Just imagine had you two been at his store at the same time! :)