Research Mentor(s): Joy Knoblauch, Assistant Professor
Research Mentor School/College/Department: Architecture, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Presentation Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Session: Session 5 (3pm-3:50pm)
Breakout Room: Room 9
Beginning in 1967, most office spaces in America were transformed to follow an “Action Office” Design created by Robert Propst. This invention, backed by psychological and behavioral research, was meant to minimize worker fatigue, increase collaboration without too much distraction, and overall boost productivity in the workplace with employees working faster for longer without much realization. The consequences of this new approach, however, weren’t realized until much more recently. Our research project sought to explore and assess the changes in workplace design from 1967 to 2017, focusing on awareness of mental health and gender fairness. Have work conditions improved? Is employee health a concern for corporations? Why is there still a prominent, gendered difference in employee treatment within the workplace? Using Robert Propst’s The Office and the Henry Ford Archives, we were able to get a sense of what was happening behind closed office doors in 1967. This was then compared to much more recent articles, journal entries, and psychological studies obtained through the databases in the University of Michigan virtual library. In comparing office workers’ mental and physical health in 1967 to that in 2017, it was determined that happiness levels immensely declined while major health risks immensely grew. This could be seen especially with women, who were specially targeted to spend their days in cubicles working under the men of major corporations. Today we can see the effects of this with more women working office jobs than men and those same women experiencing more depression, anxiety, and bullying while at work. This brings us to the conclusion that although workplace conditions and health concerns have improved over the past fifty years, with the introduction of wellness programs and greater awareness for gender equality, office dynamics and designs of the present day remain similar to those of 1967–complete with references to the work of Robert Propst. In half a century of time, change has been gradual but still has a long way to go. The consequences of mental trauma and gender inequality from Propst’s office designs will be carried for years to come.