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.

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4 Comments

  1. I found this article to be very interesting, as there can be many different opinions about coworkers with a messy desk. This article takes the approach of how a messy work space leads coworkers to think that the worker with the messy desk is more neurotic, less agreeable, and pretty uncaring. I would argue that there are a few different reasons as to why people have messy desks. My first thought is that the employee is too busy to clean their desk. I have interned in a office where the employees handle lots of paperwork, and are very busy between meetings and phone calls. Seeing this has shown me that employees may not always have the time to reorganize their desks. Another thought of mine is that some employees may not mind having a messy desk. If an employee can function normally with a messy desk, he or she may not mind the desk being messy. During my freshman year of college, I had a professor that had the messiest office. Even with his messy office, he was one of my most memorable professors. He had assignments graded very fast, answered his emails quickly, and had a unique style of teaching. This shows that he is not neurotic or uncaring, even with a messy desk. I think it just depends on how a person functions at work, as some people cannot function properly with a messy desk, while others can.
    Personally, I do think that if employees share an office, they should have to reorganize their desk before leaving work each day. I understand that there are employees that feel anxious when the office is not neat, as the mess causes unnecessary stress. I especially think that the desk should be cleaned of any empty coffee cups or perishable items, as keeping these items can result in unwanted critters coming into the office.
    Overall, I can understand how coworkers may assume that an employee with a messy desk is neurotic and uncaring, but I do not think that this is always the case. I think that some employees with messy desks may not mind the mess, as they can still function normally. I also think that employees can not always keep their desks clean, as the work day can get busy.

  2. I like this article to a point. There are many reasons as to why someone is more productive than another person is but this is something that does not necessarily come to mind. I do not think that the experiment was very inclusive because they gave 160 different people an office, and that office may not be how that particular person organizes their own desk. This in and of itself is a misrepresentation, because if you put someone who has an organized though process into a messy room, of course their mind is going to be different and disturbed in someway, but that does not mean that a person who works well in a messy room would react in the same way. Just like that, if you put a messier person into a completely organized room, their thought process will be completely different from the person whose room is actually organized. The actions and work for each person in the unfamiliar and unusual room does not explain the actions and the work that each person can do when they are working in their own comfortable place. I understand the study behind this and the correlation between each of the workspaces contrary to the person but I do not believe this article takes into consideration what job is being done, and what can actually be done well in each space. For example, the untidier person may be able to have a more creative and fluid mind whereas the tidier person may be better with technical subjects. This article was too general for me and did not actually take into consideration other factors.

  3. This an interesting article to read. I have a mixed feeling on this topic. There are some point I
    Agree with and some I do not. I support the idea that a cleaner desk often proves that the person is more productive. In general, it makes because whenever you are in a room where there is less distractions you are able to focus more on completing your task. Howeever if it is very untidy, you are very distracted and your focus time is quite low. The reseaercher claims that the time span between someone who has a clean desk compared to another with a messy desk is around 7 minutes. This is kind of time is enoiugh to get ahead of your peers.
    The other part of this research I do not quite agree with is the idea that having a messy makes your coworkers assume you are uncaring, less agreeable and unstable. There is a saying do not judge a book by its cover. I think that terminology applies here as well. You cannot assume a person is unstable because they have a messy desk. It just does not make sense to me. The person could be in a difficult position in their and might be in need of help instead of assuming they are uncaring. This is something I feel the research might not be accurate based on the ideas it portrays. Honestly, I don’t think its right to assume all kinds of thoughts about someone based on the cleanliness of their desk. What is your opinion about this concept? Do you agree with the research?

  4. From the title of the article, I had a preconceived notion that a messy work desk corresponded to negative attributes of a person. The article stated a study that was conducted and its findings concluded that an untidy work space leads colleagues to perceive that the person is more neurotic, less agreeable, and pretty uncaring. This makes sense to an extent, but how can we truly judge a person’s work ethic on the sole purpose of the appearance of their desk?

    Making a good first impression is particularly important when it comes to meeting customers, pitching to potential clients, or during interviews. These are the key points at which people will meet you and begin to form an impression of you and the services you’re offering. A messy or disorganized desk can be interpreted as a sign you are disorganized and inefficient in your work. That’s not the type of image any of us want. This mindset is what causes people to judge a person’s ability to do something just because it’s different from the rest. Who knows, maybe the person with the messiest desk was the only one who could’ve given you the best deal off the car you were looking to purchase.

    Being messy at work does not necessarily mean you are a messy person in general. Not only do we see people wanting to make a good first impression in the workplace, but it even happens in our own homes. I think many would agree that if you are hosting a party at your house you would tidy up and make sure everything is cleaned before the guest arrive. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we are doing it because it comes so naturally. In addition to affecting the way others see you, a messy desk can impact how you see yourself. Don’t miss the importance of this. Having confidence can have a profound impact on how you present yourself and pursue your work. A clean desk at work is a very simple step that can have a variety of benefits in your professional life, but shouldn’t dictate if you are a good employee or not.

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