OD Chatter: Don’t I Deserve Privacy?

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By Debra Dee Bradford

Dear OD Chatter,

I have worked at my current job for over a year, recently I got a new boss who moved his entire department from their individual cubes to an open office.

Everyone decorated their spaces when they moved into the new space including myself. My new “desk” in in the door way so that I’m the first one you see when you come in.

I had a few things out on my desk like tissues, a wall calendar, a picture I drew along with one a coworker did for me (this coworker had drawings all over the office because people love his work), and a phone charging cord as my cell phone is my work cell. I was asked to take down my wall calendar and the picture I drew because my desk ” was the first one people see” and “they wanted the office as a show room to impress people”.

I took down my stuff as requested and because I had to rush to a client’s I couldn’t take it home and left it on my desk. I came in today to find the items mentioned above shoved into my desk drawer haphazardly. Someone else had touched my things and I feel that that was uncalled for.

My two suspects are my boss and the HR person who called me into her office the day before and said the quotes above to me. I feel like a line was crossed today by who ever touched my stuff and I feel I cannot talk to HR about this because I suspect they are involved.

Am I out of line for feeling this way?

Regards, Tired of Stress,

Dear Tired of Stress,

Thank you for sending in your work related question.  The pictures you included really helped, thank you for including them.  You have a clean and well-organized desk, not like mine at all!

I believe you are asking two main questions: 1) does the employer have the right to dictate what is on your desk, and 2) do you have a right to privacy as it pertains to your personal belongings?

The employer reserves the right to dictate the ‘look’ of the spaces they provide to their workers.  Offices are usually the place where employers want to impress clients and visitors.  To do this they can set dress codes, establish rules for eating or not eating at your desk including beverages, they can dictate what trash cans are used for any food item (which may be a distance from the desk areas), and how many personal items may be left on the desktop. 

The employer does not owe you any degree of privacy.  This is true even if you are located in a private office and even if they mandate that your office door remain locked when you are not in your office.  The employer may unlock your door at any time and for any reason. 

Your employer did not breech any confidence by moving your personal items from the desktop to a desk drawer. Perhaps the person who moved your belongings was a little upset because they had to move them, causing them to do so without much care.  

I’m going to say it: personal accountability.  You were aware of the request and therefore it was your responsibility to comply before you left for the day.

If you really want to show a picture/ object that you like, have a conversation with your supervisor about where it may look the best in their opinion – before you display it on your desk. I am sure that you can find a middle ground that makes everyone happy.  I would however, wait a few weeks before having this conversation to make sure that calmer minds are present!

Thanks for sending OD Chatter your workplace related question! 

OD Chatter

OD Chatter is written by Debra Dee Bradford, CHRO of ODL Business Partners, Inc. (www.odlbp.com) an HR consulting firm specializing in organizational development and leadership training. She can be reached at dbradford@odlbp.com. Or, send your workplace related questions to OD Chatter at marlenab@odlbp.com.

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