01 Jan 2007

Feng Shui for the Workplace

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fengSomeone could stand to benefit from a bit of office feng shui.
It just might not be you, however, finds Indigo Clarke

By Indigo Clarke

Translated as “wind and water”, feng shui is the Chinese “art of placement”, practiced for over 5,000 years. The traditional teaching, once reserved for China’s emperors, is primarily concerned with the flow and quality of the energy, or chi, occupying a space. Chi is believed to be composed of dual opposing forces known as yin and yang – yang energy being light and active, while yin is dark and passive. Feng shui consultants attempt to balance these opposing forces through the placement of doors, furniture and objects, as well as in the analysis of birth dates, to create harmony and wellbeing in a home or office.

Big-name business players such as Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey and Rupert Murdoch have recently been lured by the potential gains of the ancient art of feng shui in their working environments. Along with a growing number of major corporations including HSBC and Hewlett-Packard, Murdoch’s News Corporation has been employing the Eastern practice as a means of improving business.

While applying the rules of feng shui may well have had positive effects in Murdoch’s new DirecTV El Segundo headquarters (it is of course rather difficult to measure such effects in any meaningful way), it has been to the dismay of the company’s president, Mitchell Stern. Stern had an 11th floor perch overlooking mountain and ocean views – until at the request of Murdoch’s wife Wendy Deng, feng shui masters were brought in to analyse the workspace early this year. At their advice, Stern traded his enviable office for a new space taking in unappealing views over a sewage treatment plant and the company garage – because, as it turns out, the new office is a lucky charm for someone born on Stern’s birthday. We wonder if that had anything to do with Stern quitting his job after just one year ...

DirecTV’s chief financial officer Michael Palkovic was also forced to relocate offices because of the little problem of his adjoining bathroom – seen by the feng shui experts as sucking the company profits down the drain. If passing up a dream workspace for a treatment-plant vista is not very enticing, it might be an idea to ensure luck is on your side before consulting a feng shui expert.

“Feng Shui is a set of rules about how our environment influences our activities and health,” says UK feng shui consultant Thomas Coxon. “In a business context we’re mostly interested in how it can help with turnover, profit and staff motivation. It considers the effects of ‘energy’ – which sounds a bit nebulous until you are aware of some of the basics, such as the more energy entering an office, the more energised and productive the staff will be.” This all sounds rather vague, but Coxon says that there are simple, practical guidelines to promote wellbeing and efficiency in the workplace. “If you lay out the interior of the office with feng shui principles in mind staff are likely to be more productive. Two basic rules are: where possible, have people’s desks face the door (so they face the incoming energy stream), and sharp corners in the room generate small but strong cutting flows of energy and where these strike a person, that person will begin to feel uncomfortable and distracted, weakening their productivity. It’s best to block these corners with a large plant or similar obstruction.”

Internet-based toy company The Millions Group employed Coxon’s services when director Lucy Pole was considering taking a further two floors of an office building to accommodate the business’ rapid expansion. Not only did Coxon advise on the placement of furniture in the office, but looked at Pole’s home environment and how it affected her business. “Thomas saw that the kitchen in my house was actually the ‘money sector’, and every time I was using this cooker I was actually burning money. Thomas strategically placed amethyst crystals around the cooker to offset the burning element, neutralising the energy.” Well, um, quite.

Amethysts and energy aside, Pole firmly believes many of the basic principles of feng shui have helped her financially and personally – she says that after employing Coxon’s advice her business attracted a bigger client base and media attention. We’ll have to take her word for it on that one.

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