I was told of a senior member of staff who had worked from her own office all her working life, but who now had been told that she, too, needs to take part in this daily scramble for desk space. She is appalled by this, and feels totally uprooted. Where can she put the photos of her family with which she likes to surround herself as she works? And does she have to get rid of her pot plants which she tenders so lovingly each day?
I wonder what the thinking behind this is, apart, presumably, to save space. If desk spaces are freed up when people are out of the office, I assume this makes it possible to cram more people into ever smaller spaces. But what may be the human cost of learning to view your office, not as a place where you establish a second home (your own desk, your own things), but as a public space available to anybody? Has anybody calculated that? I wonder whether anybody has thought to measure the comparative job satisfaction of having a familiar against an unfamiliar, ever-changing place of work? Would it not be as though every day you have to search for a new home which you have to try to make your own? From a five element point of view, what does this do to office workers’ Earth element, the element which so strongly wants to make every place where it rests its home?
This reminds me of a patient of mine who came to me because her ankles had suddenly swollen so badly that she could hardly walk. After enquiring carefully about what was happening when this trouble first appeared, it apparently coincided with when she was promoted and moved to an office on her own. Aware that she was Earth, and therefore, as are all Earth people, is happiest in the company of people, viewing her fellow office workers as a kind of work family who surround her, I asked her whether she liked this. It turned out that she hated working on her own in this way. With my knowledge of the Earth element prompting me, I asked whether she could move somebody else in with her. She was not sure whether this would be possible, but then, as often happens, the fates intervened. The management wanted to rearrange office space and asked her whether she minded sharing her room with two others. Of course she agreed. Very soon after this, and with the additional help of treatment on the Earth element, the swelling on her ankles disappeared.
I always attributed the rather sudden disappearance of her symptoms to her Earth element’s relief at no longer working alone. Perhaps symbolically her swollen ankles were Earth’s way of immobilizing her, trying to fix a home for her within herself when her actual office home had become too lonely for her. Once the office had returned to being a comfortable place peopled by others, it could be said that her body could now return to its normal shape, no longer needing to try to find its own stability within itself, which is one way of viewing her swollen legs. Fanciful though this might seem to some people, I don’t think it is. Our physical symptoms always in some way reflect what is going on emotionally within us.
I thought of this patient today, although she came many years ago, because she is further evidence to me of how any environment we are in, office as well as home, will affect our emotional well-being, either positively or negatively. I suspect office planners rarely think of this when designing how their office spaces should be used.