Can Parking Direction Tell Us Anything About Company Morale?

A reader named Tim Wadlow writes in with an interesting theory:

I spent about 10 years as a operations management consultant, working with dirty, dull, and dangerous manufacturing companies.

After spending time at roughly 100 manufacturing locations around the world, I noticed an odd trend:  the direction that employees parked in their parking spots highly correlated with employee morale and satisfaction with their jobs.  Most of the cars parked forward? A good company to work for, with employees who want to get to work. Most cars backwards? It seems as though the moment that the employee got to work, he or she was planning a quick exit.

Next time you drive by a manufacturing company check it out.

Maybe CEO’s should study Google Earth maps of their parking lots to determine if they are changing a companies culture?

I love Tim’s thinking and would love to see someone test the idea empirically even though I have my doubts. The forward/reverse parking metric strikes me as too crude and too binary to tell us much of anything. But maybe I’m wrong.

One other thought: drug use is a big problem in some manufacturing plants; maybe employees who get to work stoned are more likely to park forward; and maybe that’s why companies with a lot of forward-parked cars tend to seem happier?


Marcus

I also recall seeing somewhere that people of different races tend to park differently. Also, when I go to a sporting event that I really want to see, and leaving the lot may take time, I make sure to park backwards so I can get out quicker. That does not mean that I'm less excited about going to that game. So maybe some plants just have shifts where everyone's getting out at the same time rather than staggered and people want to get home and spend time with families.

Liz

Cars that are parked backward could also have been the result of pulling through two empty spaces....that's when I'm happiest parking, anyway--no backing up required!

Bobby Calise

I have another theory: the cleanliness of the bathrooms in an office (i.e. the amount of respect employees give their fellow employees by keeping it clean) is indicative of morale. The uglier the bathroom, the worse the morale. You heard it here first.

www.bobbycalise.wordpress.com

Mike Corcoran

My parking lot metric relates to where the executives park. Bosses park in a reserved space by the front door and it says "Me first!" Bosses park in the back row and it says "Customers and visitors are important to our success."

Ben

Yeah, I buy into this theory. People who take the time to back into their parking spaces (for work) are generally eager to get the heck out of there and that thought is often in their minds as they pull into the lot in the mornings.

Reverse Parker

One thing this observation overlooks is that some companies (especially in the Petrochemical industries) encourage, or may even require, employees to reverse park, in order to reduce the number of accidents that happen in their parking lots. In these cases reverse parking may have nothing to do with the attitudes of the employees, and instead lie in the attitudes of the management regarding safety.

Thomas

It also depends on how the parking lot is designed; if I can drive 'though' one spot to be facing forward, without ever having to shift into reverse (like in most shopping malls), then it would be foolish not to do so. But if the rows of the lot are only one car deep, then normally I wouldn't back into the spot only to save 5 seconds later. Unless I really disliked where I was going, and wanted to ensure a speedy exit.

Rouche

Huh. I'm relatively new to a huge state government building where at least half the cars 'back in' to their spots. At my previous large government employers in the same town, no one does this. Many of the folks in the present building are law enforcement; I was beginning to think *that* was the difference - that it's a "cop thing." Maybe not, though... it is a thoroughly dysfunctional place.

Marit

Anyone who has served in the Army or worked in law enforcement, fire or other emergency fields automatically backs into a spot. Fast exit is a component of training.

Jon

I would be willing to bet that a majority of those workers drove trucks or SUV's. Backing a truck up and out of a parking spot in a crowded lot is tough task with the blind spots, so most owners elect to back their truck into a spot so they have the forward vision while leaving. Second thought would be those driving cars and have an open spot to "drive through" to face outward would take that opportunity. Personally anytime I see an opportunity to pull ahead so I am facing forward I do it. I think most people would rather drive forward than reverse while in a lot. I am not convinced it has anything to do with morale at work.

Mike

A colleague of mine has also noticed a correlation between parking direction and distance from the building - at different times of the day of course. Lunch changes things up drawing some different conclusions.

Wilson

Where I work, it's the shirkers who park this way -- the people who come in late and leave early. So I guess the more people like this a company has, the worse off it is.

Anders Johnson

On a somewhat related note, the chief scientist of a publicly traded company I used to work for once told me that if there are a lot of cars in the parking lot during the last weekend of the quarter (presumably in a dash to reach sales goals), then the stock price would always decline in the run-up to the quarter announcement. I never tried to verify this, but I always thought it would be an interesting thing to study.

Eric M. Jones.

Excellent observations, but there is a lot more that can be learned.

1) Age of cars,
2) Pick-up to passenger-car ratio
3) FWD to TWD ratio
4) Reserved parking places (Tekronix has no reserved parking)
5) Convertible to Hardtop ratio among passenger vehicles
6) Motorcycle and bike parking.

etc.

Chris Short

I usually park facing out because that's what we did in the military and my parking lot is big enough. I normally park facing in though at home... Hmm...

BikerDad

It's primarily a safety thing. The vast majority of accidents in parking lots happen when a car is backing out of a space. Take a look at a truck stop. All your trucks are parked so they can pull forward out of the space. Given that a manufacturing facility is more likely to have employees who have been truck drivers, or know truck drivers, they'll be aware of this safety aspect, and more likely to do it.

I will almost always take a pull through spot over any other, because it is bar none the safest way to park, both getting in to the spot and pulling out. The only time I'll forgo a pull through is when I'm going to be loading stuff in to the back of my vehicle.

I'll expand on the the bathroom metric Bobby suggests and include the breakroom as well.

panamajon

I dont know if its a military mindset or the fact that its a lot darker (and thus more difficult to back out) when I leave work than it is when I get there, but I always back into my parking spot and I'm very happy and productive at my office.

James

It's also a minor fuel-saving trick: when you arrive, your engine is warmed up and running more efficiently, so backing in takes less gas than backing out with a cold engine. And of course pulling through a typical two car head-to-head slot is most efficient of all.

Jim Washer

It could also be that those who are comfortable backing in, tend to be more mechanically talented. Those talented individuals would tend naturally towards being less satisfied with the mundane work they are performing in their jobs.

Marty

Here, those that park against the building generally pull in while those who park in the back row (we only have 2 rows), back in so almost every car faces the same way - toward the office.

A problem with this theory is that tradition (or the peer pressure of seeing others parked that way) isn't considered. Also, would people change their parking habit based on mood? So is it simply just "like-minded people"?