There’s a clue in a common factor from Ryff’s Scales of Psychological Well-Being and Ryan & Deci’s Self-Determination Theory: autonomy.

One of the things which you’d notice, if security would let you walk round my employer’s offices, is that of our 1,800 computers, no two are alike.  This is because we allow staff to choose their monitor, keyboard, and mouse – or trackball, if they prefer – from whatever we have in stock.  (We even have those “natural” keyboards, which always seemed to me to be for people with a highly “unnatural” way of holding their arms out, but which some people love.)

All you have to do is come over to the IT department “boutique” and choose what you want.  The monitor will be installed next time someone from IT is passing by your office; you can take the keyboard and mouse away and plug them in yourself.  Interesting, almost nobody cares about “the computer” – the box under the desk: as long as it’s very quiet and runs MS Office, it does the job.  (We do, however, spend about 4 Euros on each mouse mat.  A thick, non-slip, absorbent mouse mat is one of the best presents you can get for your desk.)

We’ve been doing this for almost ten years now, and the results have been very interesting.  The IT help desk staff get to meet people who have come to them when nothing is broken – when did you last call IT apart from for a problem? – and help them with their little ergonomic issues, all of which cuts down on burnout (ask your IT department what turnover is like among good help desk staff).  It saves on equipment costs, because people keep the items which they chose for themselves for 5 years or more – it may get dirty, but it’s their dirt.  And when they spill coffee in their keyboard, they don’t call the help desk, because they don’t want us to bring them just any old replacement; they walk over to IT with it, and spend a few minutes testing out new ones.  Last year, 93% of people rated their office computer facilities as “good” or “very good” in our annual survey.

Why does this work?  There’s a clue in a common factor from Ryff’s Scales of Psychological Well-Being and Ryan & Deci’s Self-Determination Theory: autonomy.  By personally choosing what’s on their desk, they have taken “ownership” of their computer, and so they look after it better.

Does your employer let you “own” your work computer?  If not, why not?  And, can you think of other ways to introduce ownership and other forms of autonomy into your workplace?

Author’s Bio

Nick Brown is a MAPP student at UEL, trying to reconcile the need for better science in positive psychology with a looming realisation that trying to measure anything truly interesting with objective data is close to impossible.  He welcomes all comments, rebuttals, and tips – of either the “help” or “PayPal” kind – at nick.brown@free.fr

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