I recently read a thought-provoking article, via Twitter, called Having Fine Art in the Workplace is Good for Productivity. That may be a debatable point – I’m not sure it’s easy to calculate a classic ROI from having art in the workplace – but I do believe you can (very roughly) estimate what I call ROE, Return on Environment, as there are subtle but valuable benefits workplace art can bring to a corporate culture.

The article noted above was written by Andre Smith as a guest blog for someone I follow on Twitter, Marissa Brassfield, who goes by the Twitter handle of @efficient. A simple clear-headed focus on efficiency and productivity appeals to me. After all, is there anyone in management who can’t benefit from being more efficient?

I did some research on the benefits of art at work, and the reasons commonly cited for having it involve:

Boosting creativity – It can interest and inspire certain artistically oriented individuals who will find the artwork a pleasure to be around.

Helping reduce stress – The relaxing, contemplative aspects of art can help lower the stress levels of what we all recognize can be a high-stress setting.

Well, maybe. Somewhat. In the article I mentioned by Andre Smith, he wrote: “The purpose of fine art is for aesthetics, or beautifying the space. Having culture in the workplace can improve workplace culture itself… It leaves a lasting impression both on the employees who see it day after day, and on clients who visit either once or frequently. Art is important in the branding of a company’s image as well as creating a pleasant and inspiring environment.”

That’s nicely said, and I fully agree. Let me inject a little of my own history here. I worked at one time with a former professor who had taught at a not-too-well-funded public university. For literally years in the corner of a stairwell near her office sat a large wad of dirty old rolled-up newspaper thick with collected dust. It became a point of interest to my professor friend whether anyone ever cared enough to pick up the nasty old paper and throw it away. No one ever did. So it became to her a symbol of neglect, of employees not caring enough about their working environment to take any pride in it. When she later began working at the company I did – an old-line Fortune 500 life insurance company (MassMutual Financial Group), she was astonished: The polished floors literally shined. In contrast to the seldom-cleaned offices she came from, the company’s large headquarters complex was cleaned so regularly you almost felt you could eat scrambled eggs off the marble floors.

That to me is what having art in the workplace is really about. It’s less about aesthetics and more about pride in one’s environment. It shows management cares enough about the employee experience – and the customer experience – to have a thoughtfully maintained facility that people feel good about working in.

Which to me is where Return on Environment starts becoming tangible. Employees want to feel good about where they work. They want their physical location to be a source of pride.

Pride motivates. And that’s good business.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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Victor is the author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World (Prentice Hall Press).

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