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Updated Oct 28, 2014

Broken Windows Theory in Business Management

In using the Broken Windows Theory in business management, the physical characteristics of the workplace affect worker behavior. This is especially true in cases where the physical environment has unusual characteristics that act as distractions. In the workplace, the physical environment includes the facility, temperature and lighting, furniture, open spaces, and equipment. The condition of the physical environment has a significant effect on how employees behave and perform. To use the Broken Windows Theory in business, managers can adjust the physical environment or make it flexible to minimize distractions and facilitate high productivity.

Basis of the Broken Windows Theory in Business Management

The effect of the physical environment is well researched in Sociology. Wilson and Kelling’s (1982) article “Broken windows: The police and neighborhood safety,” illustrates that the physical environment has a notable effect on individual perceptions and behaviors. In New York City, improved maintenance of facilities and increased apprehension of minor offenders led to a significant reduction in major crime rates in the 1990s (Gladwell, 2002). A disorderly place increases the likelihood of delinquency and crime, while a clean and orderly place encourages peace and order in people’s behaviors. Read more on the Broken Windows Theory in Policing.

Broken Windows Theory in Business Management

Broken Windows Theory in business management: A disorderly workplace encourages disorderly employee behaviors (Image from Spitzruten).

Orderliness Affects Workplace Behavior

In applying the Broken Windows Theory in business management, one should note that a disorderly workplace increases the likelihood of employee delinquency. Larsen’s (2013) discussion on the effects of the environment on behavior shows that people tend to follow rules better in clean and orderly areas. For instance, a worker is less likely to violate company rules if the workplace is always kept clean and orderly. In a disorderly workplace, workers tend to think that nobody cares if the place is disorderly, and that nobody cares if their actions add to the disorderliness. Thus, in a disorderly workplace, workers tend to behave in a corresponding disorderly or delinquent manner.

How Managers can Use the Broken Windows Theory in Business

Managers can use the physical characteristics of the workplace to optimize employee performance. For instance, adequate furniture can make it easier and convenient to keep the workplace tidy. Shelves can be used to store files and other materials. Lockers can keep personal belongings from distracting workers in doing their jobs. Managers can also go one step further by allowing employees to have some control on the physical characteristics of the workplace. Lee and Brand (2010) argue that providing flexibility by allowing employees to change the workplace has potential to minimize distraction. In a flexible workplace, the employees can rearrange furniture, change decors and lighting intensity, among other factors. In this way, employees perceive that they are in control of the physical environment in the workplace. This system enables employees to align workplace characteristics to their preferences, thereby reducing distractions and facilitating better performance. Moreover, employees develop and sense of ownership and involvement that can add to their motivation to perform better.

References

  • Gladwell, M. (2002). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference. Back Bay Books.
  • Larsen, E. L. (2013). People and Place: The Interrelated Connections Between Interactions, Perceptions and Space. In Neighborhood Structure and Health Promotion (pp. 77-90). Springer.
  • Lee, S. Y., & Brand, J. L. (2010). Can personal control over the physical environment ease distractions in office workplaces? Ergonomics53(3), 324-335.
  • Wilson, J. Q., & Kelling, G. L. (1982). Broken windows: The police and neighborhood safety. The Atlantic Monthly, 249(3), 29-38.
First published Sep 1, 2013. Updated Oct 28, 2014.