When I was an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to be elected student body president. One of the perks to this position was that I had my own office. For a young twentysomething, this was pretty cool. As I had private office, I would often take off my shoes when I was working. It wasn’t that I had uncomfortable shoes, I just felt more comfortable when I wasn’t wearing them. Knowing that some people are uncomfortable with barefooted-ness, I kept a pair of moccasins close by that I could slip on when I went out into the main part of our office. Many of my colleagues teased me for taking off my shoes, but when I’d walk by the tables in the main office, I’d often see one or two people who’d also removed their shoes.
Since graduating, I’ve lived in a couple of places where barefooted-ness isn’t uncommon. For instance, in New Zealand, it’s not unusual to see people walking down the street or through the supermarket (!) barefoot. Even in the United States, albeit not the continental United States, it’s not abnormal to see people walking around barefoot in public. A couple of years ago, Jennifer Aniston was caught walking around in public without any shoes in Hawaii.
Walking around in public without any shoes is slightly different from walking around an office without any shoes. Many people walk around in public in their pajamas, but you most certainly wouldn’t head to the office in your pajamas — unless, of course, it’s national wear your pajamas to work day. But maybe shoelessness isn’t such a bad idea.
There was a biology professor in Virginia who shed his shoes in the classroom for a little while. The university allowed this while he was promoting his book, The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes, but after a period of time, he was then required to put his shoes back on when he was in the classroom. The professor frequents restaurants without any shoes. ‘Isn’t this a health code violation?’ You might ask. As a matter of fact, it isn’t. The professor keeps a letter with him from the Virginia state health department attesting that it’s not. As you’d imagine, restaurant owners are none too pleased.
As the stereotype goes, professors can be a bit quirky, so you still might think nothing of this. What if I told you that the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (!) has admitted to walking around the office barefoot? This year! As it turns out, a majority of people would be okay with this. According to a survey conducted last year by Adecco, a human resources consulting company, only 43% of people said they’d be offended if people took their shoes off in their workspace.
Can going barefoot actually make you more productive?
It’s no secret that stress is a major inhibitor when it comes to productivity. So, it follows that anything you can do to reduce stress in the workplace should help you be more productive.
Dr. Dieter Breithecker, who is currently the head of Germany’s Federal Institute for Posture and Mobilisation Support and a member of the International Ergonomics Association, says, “Putting the soles of your feet in contact with all the normal sensations helps to relieve internal tension and reduce stress. Shoes, on the other hand, prevent direct contact with the ground and so adversely affect the health of our feet, balance and posture.”
Not only could your shoes be inhibiting your productivity, but there’s a good chance that they might be affecting other aspects of your health like your posture.
It’s been quite a few years since I walked around barefoot in the office as the student body president. As the person ‘in charge,’ it was a little easier to get away with it and not upset too many people. In the years since, as long as I’ve had a private office, you could be sure that my feet were free, while my shoes remained tucked away in the corner. And for those times I needed to venture out of the office, I’d have to decide what the situation required. On some occasions, it’s important to be wearing formal shoes, but for those times it’s not, you’ll almost certainly catch me wearing a pair of Vibram FiveFingers Bormios.