The Barbaric Yawp!  How Walt Whitman is reflected in the modern corporate office.

“I sound my baric yawp over the rooftops of the world.”- Wal Whitman from Song of Myself.  My favorite line from one of my favorite poets.  I couldn’t help but think of Uncle Walt when I was touring an enclave of offices recently.  What does a 19th century poet have to do with modern workplaces? well it turns out a lot!

As I wondered snakelike through all the areas of sales, development, design, etc. I was blown away at the time so many people took to make their workplaces expressions of themselves.  Hanging on the walls of the open workspaces were works of art from loving children and grandchildren, reminders of an upcoming or recently taken Caribbean vacation, notes of congratulations about achievements and reminders about due dates.  Balloons from a baby shower and a graduation, and even an area dedicated to someone’s fascination with the actor Kevin Bacon.  It was light, airy, business-like but fun.  The uplifting workspaces were reflected in the smiles and welcome given by the denizens of the area that these people worked.

It was then that Whitman’s words came to my mind.  The Barbaric Yawp is the intensely personal cry that lets everyone know you exist and are an individual in this great, vast world.  Whitman talked of the importance of self-expression and being unique; until recently, not something that corporate America embraced.

This willingness to allow personal expression is not by accident, it is by design.  The vibe of the workplace is lively with colleagues displaying familiarity with each other and an ease in interaction that makes creativity and collaboration natural.  Problems and issues are discussed openly and face to face, not hidden through faceless email.

Not gonna stay hidden anymore

This is a relatively recent phenomenon and is due in large part to companies realizing that the new millennial workforce is not going to play by the old rules anymore.  When I first entered corporate America a long time ago, I was told to keep my workplace clean and professional.   A family picture was appropriate, but other than that it was clean efficiency with only work related material and awards.  Anything more controversial than a Dilbert cartoon and you were treading on thin ice.  Work was about work and home was about home.  Never the twain shall meet.


Today’s workplaces are warm and inviting and encourage collegiality and self-expression.  Creating of personal spaces where you feel comfortable are the rule of the day.  White boards that count down days to vacation, return from vacation, and days since someone spilled coffee in the breakroom give a light-hearted touch and interactive touch to an environment where you are expected to mingle and collaborate.  Work is where we spend huge blocks of our life and we should be as comfortable there as anyplace else.

Offices, not cubicles, are open facing stations that allow for more group based thinking and problem solving.  It is not unusual to see putting greens and Frisbee golf in common areas that allow kinesthetic learners a chance to wonder and collaborate while they innovate.

This decoration and individuality allows for a different type of work/life balance.  Your family and friends never leave you and become part of your workplace not separated from them.  Employers are finding that employees who have comfortable personalized workstations work better and are happier.  They are no longer asked to check their personalities at the office door.

This is me!

While there is rarely heard a barbaric yawp, today’s millennials are striving every day to express themselves and be heard in the world.  The decoration of the office space allows for something millennials are yearning for; authenticity.  Being authentic or “real” gives a person credibility and is a bridge to trust.  Having a personalized workplace gives co-workers a “peek behind the curtains” and extends an invitation to discuss.

Your style says so much about the impression you want to give off.  There is a line in the cusackJohn Cusack movie High Fidelity where John looks at the camera and says “I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films – these things matter.” Decorating your office gives you a chance to customize your first impression without even saying a word.  You are making a statement about yourself and that speaks loudly.

When I was a classroom teacher, I took great pride in decorating my room and encouraged my teachers to do the same.  Although it sometimes was an ADD kid’s worst nightmare with so much to stare at and be fascinated by, it reflected what I wanted my students to think about me and the subject I taught.  My room was alive, and I wanted them to be as well.  That same feeling is carried to our modern workspaces and we are better for it.

While you may be uncomfortable “Sounding your Yawp”, by all means dress up where you work and live.  It will make you look better, and when you look good you feel good, and when you feel good, you do good.  And doing good is all we can strive for.


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