Privacy at Work

Last week we ran an article about workspaces and how your workspace affects how you do your job. In discussing this article, one theme that kept resurfacing was privacy.

The privacy conversation can be subdivided into two major threads: people who require privacy because of the confidential nature of their jobs and people who want privacy to deal with occasional personal matters or need a door to close when they are having a bad day and need to get away from the fray for a little while.

The former situation is of more pressing concern for managers because it has a direct impact on employees’ ability to do their jobs but the latter should not be entirely ignored. Employers who do not properly consider the confidentiality requirements of their employees are often create possibly unnecessary obstacles for their employees that can make their jobs harder to perform.

A woman I know works in an open office space near a main entrance so clients are frequently walking by her desk. She deals with highly confidential financial information and therefore cannot leave any work visible on her desk even for the time it takes for her to take a quick trip to the restroom. She also minimizes her work on her computer screen whenever a client passes by her desk which causes her to lose focus and increases the amount of time it takes her to get her job done.

In the case of employees who don’t require privacy to perform their jobs, the issue gets more muddled. There is something to be said for more open concept office spaces. They encourage more interaction among employees and likely have a direct impact in productivity because it is considerably harder for anybody to “get away” with spending company time shopping for shoes online.

At the same time, particularly in lines of work that require commitments far in excess of a typical 40 hour week, employees sometimes need to schedule an appointment with the doctor or take a breather after a heated exchange with a coworker. Some people may feel uncomfortable doing these things in front of coworkers and similarly, some coworkers may feel uncomfortable overhearing somebody describe their gastrointestinal problems over the phone to their doctor’s office. However, is this something that employers and organizations should be charged with addressing?

Please take the poll on the lefthand sidebar and let us know how much privacy you think should be given to employees at work!

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