Got A Messy Work Desk? Study Reveals What Your Coworkers Really Think Of You

from Fast Company

What does a worker’s messy desk signify to the greater office? Unfortunately, far more than just an inability to organize bobbleheads or throw away empty La Croix cans.

A new study finds that an untidy work space leads colleagues to perceive that the person is more neurotic, less agreeable, and pretty uncaring.

Researchers and psychologists from the University of Michigan Flint and Ann Arbor conducted three experiments in which 160 participants were randomly assigned to sit in three offices: one that was clean and uncluttered, one that was “somewhat” messy, and one that was “very” messy.

The tidy office boasted all the markings of a put-together employee. It had neatly stacked papers, upright books and journals on bookshelves, organized drawers with handwritten tables, and, of course, garbage in the wastebasket.

The “somewhat” messy office included tilted books, papers on the floor, and a wall clock that was an hour off. The next iteration–the “very” messy office–was an even dirtier and more cluttered version of that, with pretty much everything in disarray. The study’s participants were then asked to share their opinions of the offices’ owners based on their time in each space.

More here.

54 Responses to Got A Messy Work Desk? Study Reveals What Your Coworkers Really Think Of You

  1. Brian F March 1, 2019 at 5:15 pm #

    Going in to this article, I expected to hear a lot of the same things that I had heard before. I keep a relatively disorganized desk, so I was always being told that keeping all of my stuff more organized would improve my productivity. However, I never really bought into that theory, so I just kept on doing my thing, thinking it was just my style and that I had everything under control. This article, though, for the first time got me thinking that there may be something behind what people had always been telling me. Apparently, you actually can focus on work for longer when you keep your desk tidy. A cleaner workspace also lowers stress during work, which is something that definitely plagues me, by reducing the time spent searching for things, decreasing the likelihood of knocking something over, and lessening the feeling of having too many things going on at once. Those effects are more real than I anticipated, but still don’t account for massive decrease in productivity. The biggest issue that com with keeping a messy workspace is the perception that comes with it. American business, still, includes a ton of snap judgments. As unfair as it probably is, many people make are heavily influenced by their first impressions. College students are constantly told about how it happens in interviews, and it keeps happening after you get hired too. A manager or executive who notices you first the first time with a cluttered desk will remember that. The nest time someone mentions you, the messy desk will come to mind and there will be a lot of associations that come with it. The last thing a new employee wants is for their boss to think of them as lazy, scatterbrained, neurotic, disagreeable, and bad at managing time. Those are the most common descriptions of disheveled workspaces in the article. Some of the judgments aren’t necessarily fair, but people will stick to them anyway. If you haven’t has the time to clean and organize your desk, other will infer that you have bed time management skill, regardless of the context. If papers and folders take up too much surface area of your desk, the inference is that you don’t take any pride in your work, even if the truth is much more innocent. Never mind that most office clutter is a result of doing actual work, people mind’s twist that image into you avoiding work if you can’t keep a tidy workspace. I don’t think this is fair, but the reality is that the best reason to keep your work materials organized is simply for appearances. This study concluded that co-workers will have a higher opinion of those who run a tight ship in regards to organization.

  2. Viviana B March 7, 2019 at 9:10 pm #

    In my opinion, a messy work desk can signal much more than just a person’s work characteristics. In general, being disorganized at work can lead to the assumption that one also has a disorganized life. It can signal that one has no control of time management, scheduling, or prioritizing tasks. As a manager this can affect one’s own productivity as well as other staff members. It can also negatively sway the decision of customers who are considering doing business. As an employee, it can produce a negative impression on managers and supervisors. Essentially, no matter what job position one holds, a messy work desk could become the reason one loses his or her job.

    When I walk into a person’s office and see that their work space is messy, I instantly become hesitant over doing business with that person. It makes me feel as if that person does not care about their work space or the impression it may have on others. In addition, it also makes me question the person’s ability to complete tasks efficiently and prioritize our business. For all I know, my business plans with that person could just become another paper piled on top of all the other clutter on their desk. Essentially, the work could become forgotten and not completed in the expected time frame. The quality of the work also becomes questionable when conducting business with a person who has a messy desk or office space. As the article stated, a person with a messy desk is more likely to be less productive then a person who has an organized desk. A person who is organized displays as someone who is reliable and responsible. I am more confident that tasks will be completed in a much more professional manner with an organized person, than one who is not.

    During one of my semesters in college, I had to meet with a professor to discuss my schedule for the following semester. As I entered his office, I immediately became discouraged on the potential outcome of the meeting. His office was packed with textbooks, papers, notes, newspapers, magazines, photographs, and plants among other things. The items in the office were stacked all over and nothing seemed to be labeled. Not to mention that I couldn’t even place my planner on his desk because there was no room available to do so. Eventually, the professor spent more time searching for my student files rather than helping me plan a successful schedule. I left the meeting feeling worried that he would forget to register me for my desired classes, and I would not be able to complete the necessary credits to graduate. This situation could also apply in a workplace environment.

    A manager’s messy desk could demotivate employees and decrease their moral. For example, an employee requests to use a PTO day, but the HR manager misplaces the request form on her messy desk and forgets to input it into the system. Eventually the day arrives, and the employee is not allowed to take off because the PTO request never appeared on the system. Although the employee was responsible enough to hand in his request in anticipation, his manager’s lack of organization limited him from receiving his earned day off. As a manager, one must lead by example for his or her team. When a manager demonstrates continuous disorganized habits in the workplace, it eventually encourages other employees to do the same. As an employee, being disorganized can prevent one from receiving a promotion or simply conserving one’s job. Although some may argue that a messy desk helps facilitates work productivity, the negative impact it can make on others is inevitable.

  3. Kevin Metz May 3, 2019 at 8:07 pm #

    automatically gets 10 times harder if my workspace is messy. This is not limited to just literary or educational works, even when I am working on home improvement jobs, working on my car, or getting ready in the morning, completing tasks while in a cluttered area causes me stress and steals my focus quite effortlessly. This article discusses not only the effects messy workspaces have on an individual but how their peers view them as well. A study showed that someone with an organized work space can work without distraction for longer than those who have a cluttered area. The article speaks about peers feeling less inclined to work with those who surround themselves in a mess for numerous reasons, the most important being their attitude and their motivation. This makes sense because who would want to put their trust in someone to meet a deadline on an important project if they can’t even put the three-day old bag of chips from the top of their desk to the waste basket under it. The study that this article speaks about shows that the attitudes that come along with being messy include careless, being less inclined to compromise and neurotic. I agree with the first two adjectives to describe these people because it makes sense, if they don’t care about their workspace, they won’t care about their work as much as they should, and they also will not care about what you have to say. The third one on the other hand, does not seem to correlate, if anything it is quite the opposite. They would not be nervous or anxious because obviously they don’t really care that their space is a mess, sure they may stress over deadlines but it isn’t that big of a burden to clean up after it is met and to be seen as this often means that its more than just a deadline fueling their habits.

  4. Kevin Metz May 3, 2019 at 8:09 pm #

    For me, working on homework, tests, quizzes, emails, or anything that requires my full attention automatically gets 10 times harder if my workspace is messy. This is not limited to just literary or educational works, even when I am working on home improvement jobs, working on my car, or getting ready in the morning, completing tasks while in a cluttered area causes me stress and steals my focus quite effortlessly. This article discusses not only the effects messy workspaces have on an individual but how their peers view them as well. A study showed that someone with an organized work space can work without distraction for longer than those who have a cluttered area. The article speaks about peers feeling less inclined to work with those who surround themselves in a mess for numerous reasons, the most important being their attitude and their motivation. This makes sense because who would want to put their trust in someone to meet a deadline on an important project if they can’t even put the three-day old bag of chips from the top of their desk to the waste basket under it. The study that this article speaks about shows that the attitudes that come along with being messy include careless, being less inclined to compromise and neurotic. I agree with the first two adjectives to describe these people because it makes sense, if they don’t care about their workspace, they won’t care about their work as much as they should, and they also will not care about what you have to say. The third one on the other hand, does not seem to correlate, if anything it is quite the opposite. They would not be nervous or anxious because obviously they don’t really care that their space is a mess, sure they may stress over deadlines but it isn’t that big of a burden to clean up after it is met and to be seen as this often means that its more than just a deadline fueling their habits.

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