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Ancient Way to Create Office Harmony

Workplace: Feng shui, the Chinese art of arranging space for positive energy, is being used in the U.S.

November 10, 1998| From Washington Post

So has business been slow? Sales been down? You could try to remedy that with new employees, better incentives or even a companywide morale-boosting retreat. Or you could just hire someone to come and "feng shui" your office.

Feng shui (pronounced "fong shway")--the ancient Chinese art of arranging buildings and furnishings harmoniously for good fortune and success--is making its way into American offices.

In the New York office of the large furniture manufacturer Haworth Inc., based in Holland, Mich., the showroom has no fluorescent lighting and people are positioned next to their co-workers not according to their likes and dislikes but according to their Chinese horoscope signs.

Were you born in the spring? Then your sign is wood, and the buildings that best fit you are high-rise buildings with flat roofs, according to this school of feng shui. Your office should be decorated in greens and light blues, and you should sit in the east and southeast areas of the office--those are your good compass directions. The vocations that best suit a "wood" person include designing, technical fields, architecture, taxi services and camera manufacturing.

Haworth employees who were screened to determine whether they were "fire," "wood," "water," "metal" or "earth" people "definitely humored me," said Anita Fischer, area sales manager for Haworth in New York. She introduced the company to the feng shui way of arranging office space about four years ago.

Fischer said feng shui brought "a more harmonious place to work in" and made customers more comfortable.

Has it helped business? Though Fischer didn't credit feng shui, she said sales in her portion of Haworth have increased 110% since the decor change.

She acknowledged that the increase could be the result of selling the right product at the right time and place, but noted: "It is kind of compelling that it happened in conjunction with the feng shui."

The company spent less than $500 on the feng shui consultation.

T. Raphael Simons, author of "Feng Shui: Strategies for Business Success" and feng shui consultant for the Haworth showroom and offices (not to mention Fischer's home), said this Asian way of harmonious decorating has been big in the workplace for quite a while. It has been used in Asian cultures for centuries, he said.

"I think there are a lot more people that are open to it now," Fischer said. "There's a lot of people who believe that if you can make a work environment better, why not try. That was my basis."

Janine Gordon, president of Emmerling Post Gordon Public Relations in New York, had Simons feng shui her office after a client did it and urged her to check it out.

"Although I myself know very little about feng shui, I was not ready to discount that good feng shui could contribute to positive energy," Gordon said. "If it could contribute to making my team happy and productive, it was certainly worth doing."

Simons went to Gordon's offices and suggested they add more plants, change the lighting from fluorescent to something softer and add pictures of water scenes, especially near the office of one employee whom he found to be dominantly "water"--someone born in the winter, who tends to be changeable, insecure, intense and secretive.

Gordon--who, according to Simons' book, may be in the wrong field, as public relations is not listed as a compatible career for a "wood" person--said her business has increased 46% this year. And although she would not attribute that number entirely to feng shui, she said she had picked up two new accounts since she took Simons' advice.

British Airways headquarters in London recently used a feng shui expert to work with the architect on the design of the offices. Bernie Knill, a project manager, said the new space has a lot of water, greenery and natural light. "Almost by coincidence, some of the features that were already built in here, [the feng shui consultant] would have recommended anyway," Knill said.

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