Office Moves: Can They Bring Out the Worst Behaviour in People?

There’s nothing like an office move to bring out the worst in people – petty jealousies, fanatical filing, rows over who gets the desk by the window. We asked Bath-based Business Psychologist, Caroline Gourlay, to tell us about patterns of unhelpful behaviour that people display under pressure.

Caroline Gourlay helps identify the worst behaviours of people at workCaroline says that often people overplay their strengths under pressure, revealing what psychologists call the ‘shadow side’. There are 11 typical shadow side characteristics. Most of us have some, some of us have lots.

Caroline’s turned the 11 characteristics into characters in a company undergoing an office move.

Which one(s) do you recognise?


Dillie Diligent can be relied upon to do a really thorough job, so she was asked to organise the office move. She’s left nothing to chance – there are colour-coded boxes for all the essential documents and she has checklists and timetables for everything. But woe betide anyone who puts their stapler in the wrong crate. Dillie really doesn’t like disorder.

Julian Dutiful is a loyal company man, who doesn’t like to upset anyone, particularly not someone in authority. He knows that his team all want to sit together but his boss wants to ‘mix things up a bit’. His team were expecting him to take a stand and he knows should have said something when the new office plan was drawn up. But he hates to rock the boat and it’s a bit late now….

Imogen Imaginative is a powerhouse of creativity. You never know what she’ll come up with next. It’s thanks to her that they’ve created an ‘ideas hub’ with bean bags and interactive whiteboards. Her ‘Pimp My Desk’ contest has been a roaring success; people have really got into the spirit of it. But no matter how many times she tried to explain the importance of “channelling ideas from beyond our intuition”, no one could really understand why she wanted a totem pole in the office.

Bob Bold considers himself way too important to get involved in something as mundane as planning an office move but now he’s rather regretting not taking more of a lead. Honestly you’d think that people would realise that someone of his status should have an executive desk, not a standard one. And he really should be nearer the boss’s office. He has ‘a quiet word’ with Dillie about it and believes he’s being perfectly reasonable. She finds him very intimidating.

Michelle Mischievous can charm the birds off the trees. She doesn’t normally spend much time with Dillie but weeks ago she made a point of telling her what a truly fantastic job she was doing organising the office move. She took a real interest in the office layout and gave Dillie some helpful advice. Which is why she is now sitting at desk next to the boss’s office, while Bob, her arch rival (mischievous types always have rivals), has a desk over there near the loos.

Colin Colourful is not a man to blend into the background. He doesn’t like to think of himself as ‘showy’ but he’s been told he has ‘presence’. The Pimp My Desk contest is right up his street. He’s come up with a fabulous Brazilian theme incorporating everything from the World Cup to the company’s plans to expand into Latin America. He’s got some great stories about his own trip to Rio to use when he showcases his desk. What does he think about other people’s pimped up desks? To be honest, Colin hasn’t really noticed them……

Estelle Excitable was really enthusiastic about the office move when it was first planned. She had some great ideas for the design of the new office but when these weren’t accepted she got a bit huffy and dropped out of the planning. On the day of the move, you can almost guarantee that something will make her either lose her temper or cry – or maybe even both.

Sean Shrewd is a smart guy. No one pulls the wool over his eyes and he won’t be taken advantage of. He’s always on the lookout for hidden agendas and now he’s wondering why his new desk is so far away from the boss’s office. Who’s managed to sit nearer the boss and what does it say about the unofficial hierarchy in the team?

Rose Reserved is very independent and likes to do her own thing. She’d really prefer her own office but she’s not senior enough, so she’s been angling for a desk as far away from everyone else as she can manage. She could really do without all this desk decorating nonsense and now there’s talk of some sort of social event to celebrate the move. Rose doesn’t come to work to socialise. Why can’t people just get on with their jobs?

Keith Cautious never puts a foot a wrong or at least not if he can help it. He is terribly sensitive to criticism. He knew where he was in the old office but now the boss has ‘mixed it up a bit’, he’ll be sitting with people from another team, who he doesn’t know very well. It’s supposed to help cross-fertilise ideas but Keith’s not happy talking about things he doesn’t know much about. Supposing he says some stupid by accident?

Laura Leisurely always seems like such a co-operative team mate, but actually she’s more interested in her own priorities. Sometimes she agrees to things just to make the other person go away, which is what happened when Dillie asked her to help with boxing up the stationery. And yeah, OK, she will do it. Really she doesn’t need all these reminders and hard stares. She’ll get round to it in her own sweet time. Just let her finish all these items on her to do list first.


As Caroline points out, it doesn’t take an office move to bring out these characteristics; they’re on display all year round in offices up and down the country. We all have times when we don’t act from the best in ourselves but, at the extreme, these characteristics de-rail people’s careers. It’s worth getting to know your shadow side – you can’t control what you don’t know about!

For more information on people behaviours at work please do visit Caroline's website:

Caroline Gourlay Consulting Business Psychologist

Posted by Paul Randall
15th September 2014