The Subtle Art of Moving Someone’s Office Location to Punish Them

Kris Dunn Kris Dunn, Office Politics 3 Comments

It’s a time-honored tradition – featuring passive-aggressiveness, avoiding pure confrontation and, at times, setting the stage for massive harassment lawsuits full of interesting details.

Yes – I’m talking about the Subtle Art of Moving Someone’s Office Location to Punish Them.

You know you’ve seen this before. An executive holds ultimate authority over where people are located office/cube-wise at your office. That executive might be petty or he/she might just be human. So when the time comes to rearrange offices due to new people coming on, new strategic initiatives, etc – there’s an opportunity.

Who’s up?  Who’s down? At times, where people get shuffled can look like a stock market of conventional career prospects. General rules go like this:

-If you move closer to your boss, that’s a good thing.

–If you move further away from your boss, that might be a bad thing.

–There are certain areas of your office space that are Siberia.  If you get sent there, it’s like Stalin sending you there in the former USSR because he didn’t feel like he could kill you.

–On a very occasional basis, there’s an office location with such bad features that it speaks volumes about your current career prospects if you’re sent there. #pleasequit

Need an example? Milton from Office Space got moved in this clip to the basement. But Milton wasn’t a player, so it’s easy to laugh at him, right?

You need a better example – and I’ve got one for you.  Try Episode 1, Season 4 of HBO’s Silicon Valley. Here’s the rundown from Refinery 29:

In the season 4 premiere, Pied Piper founder Richard (Thomas Middleditch) goes to visit Monica (a venture capitalist who sided with Richard and his company in a dispute at the end of season 3) and finds she’s been moved out of her office to a spot ‘way down the hall.’ When Richard finally finds Monica’s new office, it’s revealed she’s been placed in a glass room directly across from the men’s bathroom. Her desk even lines up directly with bathroom entryway, so every time a guy opens the door, she’s forced to see directly inside.
‘Laurie is punishing me for taking your side and going against her,’ Monica explains to Richard. ‘So she moved me down here.’
I caught up on the episode last night, below is the visual of what she sees all day (email subscribers click through for image if you can’t see it):
Classic, right?  The subtle part of the art of office relocation as a form of punishment is that it can usually be accomplished without the leader having to say a word. It’s usually done under the cover of a business reason, and thus someone else communicates the change, basically daring the recipient to engage the leader on the move. Most don’t.

Advanced office relocation as punishment to a single individual, cloaks said punishment in a flurry of multiple office moves, thus hiding the covert action.

Most office moves are warranted and just. But if you find yourself on a different floor than your boss (and you used to be near him/her) or in a heavy traffic area – you might want to think about what it all means.

If you find yourself next to the bathrooms – I bet I see your LinkedIn profile updated.

Those are the rules.

Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.

Comments 3

  1. This reminds me of Office Space! Ha! But in all seriousness, I was asked to trade offices with a guy who worked closer to the boss. My new office was going to be much bigger, even with a window. My colleague drew the short stick. My former office was tiny, next to the front door, and in a separate building all together. I was delighted to switch offices. But my colleague was super pissed. While I was on a day off, he took my computer, keyboard, and a box full of my stuff, and hastily took it to my new office. He felt his eviction was like a demotion. The official reason for the switch was so my co-worker could keep an eye on employees in the other building. Also, my boss wanted support staff in his building. But none of those reasons mattered to my colleague. I think your blog post is on point.

  2. Years ago when the Glassdoor company moved to a new office right on the water in the beautiful San Francisco Bay area. It was decided that to show the importance of the new business team (and a few close connections there) that that team would get the waterfront windows and views. The account management team? Stunning views of traffic along the 101 highway.

    Message delivered.

  3. I’ve always wondered how to interpret a moving of office space. It might seem like obvious how an executive might think, but when your job is on the line you can’t help but wonder what’s going on in his head.

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