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Putting Your Feet on the Desk Isn’t Comfortable

How did we convince ourselves this was the way to relax at work?

Chaos reigns in the U.K., where an avalanche of government resignations has led to scandal-saturated Prime Minister Boris Johnson stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party. Amid the wall-to-wall media coverage, awkward moments abounded, from politicians attempting to downplay the crisis as the goofy theme song from The Benny Hill Show blared in the background to an accidental cutaway of BBC presenter Tim Willcox scrolling his phone, feet up on his desk, apparently having not expected to be live on the air. Happens to the best of us.  

But Willcox’s relaxed pose — before he noticed the technical hiccup — got me thinking. And the conclusion I finally came around to was this: I’ve never been comfortable with my feet up on a desk or table. It’s like something they made up for the movies, a way to show that your character is at ease and maybe even a little impudent within a professional setting. A position of confidence, or cockiness, that establishes how a person is definitively not working, just chilling.

Or, if you’re Barack Obama, that you are working, but effortlessly cool about it. 

Either way, it still seems phony and staged to me. Presidents put their feet up on the desk for the cameras like they chow down on corn dogs at the Iowa State Fair — to buttress their everyman image. I don’t believe for a second that Obama, Willcox or anyone who does this derives mental or physical benefit from it. Just admit that it doesn’t feel good! 

Over on the office blog Ask a Manager, a reader claims that it “relieves pressure from my back.” Lies! Meanwhile, this leadership guru says that when an executive puts their feet on the desk, it means, “Hey, we’re having a real conversation.” Oh, come on. You’re cosplaying as a boss you saw profiled in a magazine. Let’s not embarrass ourselves by pretending this is ordinary human behavior.     

Lying down on the couch after a long day? Can’t beat it. Propping your heels on the hard, flat surface where you answer emails and slurp down coffee to stay awake? Wrong. Unnatural. Stupid. Look at the guy in that stock photo above: His feet are barely resting on anything! Probably because the edge of the desk would bite into his ankle. You can’t reform this. Yet the pressure to try it myself once again is inescapable. Hmm, wouldn’t it be nice to kick back…  

Right. The hell was I thinking. Need to keep my guard up. Don’t want to end up like this doofus: