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Enough with the family photos!

Marketplace Staff Feb 20, 2007

Enough with the family photos!

Marketplace Staff Feb 20, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: Y’know how people personalize their offices or cubicles? Random knicknacks or pictures of their kids? Over in the U.K., a big company just told its employees they can’t do that anymore.No family snapshots or mementos on desks. Too much clutter, the bosses said.

Workers grumbled, of course. But commentator Lucy Kellaway says around the office, less is more.

LUCY KELLAWAY: Many of my colleagues surround themselves with photos of their offspring hugging trees, building sandcastles, and making a horrid mess of their baked beans.

Why, I’ve always wondered.

I can think of all sorts of reasons for why not. First among these is that I know what my children look like already.

Second, I try to keep work and home as separate as possible. I would no more have pictures of my children in the office than I would have pictures of my colleagues at home.

More important, I don’t want others visiting me at my desk and have to say “Ahhh . . . how old are they?” And I don’t need reminding of them as I’ll be seeing them again in a couple of hours.

During the Second World War, bomber pilots had pictures of their loved ones in the cockpit so that if trouble struck, they would be the last things they saw before they died.

Well, I’m not planning to die before I go home.

To understand the phenomenon better, I asked a serious young man what the point was of the 10 baby and toddler snaps he had on his bulletin board. “My children are important to me, and looking at them makes me feel better,” he said.

But then surely his parents are also important to him. You never see pictures of parents in employees’ cubicles.

This may have something to do with the fact that the average 80-year-old is less cute than the average 2-year-old.

But there’s something else too that explains it.

The child is a badge, a trophy. When the CEO has a huge framed picture of kids (and wife too, if she’s attractive) on prominent display, what he’s really saying is: “Look at my gorgeous family, I’m a good guy, really.”


RYSSDAL: Lucy Kellaway is management columnist for the Financial Times.

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