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Build Your Career Office Life

Keep It Clean: What Does Your Desk Say About You?

Keep It Clean: What Does Your Desk Say About You?
Credit: Nevsky/Shutterstock

Presenting a good image to your boss requires more than just producing quality work. New research shows that the state of an employee's workspace also impacts what their manager thinks of them.

The study from the staffing firm OfficeTeam revealed a number of things about employees' offices and desks that leave a bad taste in their bosses' mouths. Specifically, more than half of those surveyed said a messy or disorganized desk is what irks them most.

In addition, 21 percent said displaying inappropriate or offensive photos or phrases is what they find most bothersome, and 15 percent said having too many knickknacks or decorations is what they find most distracting.

"Your workspace is a reflection of you," Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam, said in a statement. "Keep it tidy and make sure there isn't anything on display that might cause others to question your professionalism."

The good news is that while some employees might not keep their desks very tidy, the vast majority aren't putting up decorations that are over the top. The study shows that only 15 percent of senior managers have seen inappropriate or offensive items or decorations in an employee's workspace. [See Related Story: Do Messy Desks Make For Selfish Workers?]

Ironically, a desk that is a little too organized can also bother some bosses. The research shows that 10 percent of those surveyed said a workspace that is too clean or bare is what they find most annoying.

"Showing a little personality on your desk is fine, but don't go overboard," Britton said. "You want to stand out for your positive attributes, not the messy state of your office or work area."

To help employees, OfficeTeam offers some simple tips for creating a workspace that leaves a good impression:

  1. Clean daily. Don't let your mess build up. Each day, spend a couple of minutes throwing out trash, like food wrappers, and disposing of old or unneeded documents. Take any steps you can, such as organizing files or going paperless, to reduce the clutter.
  2. Be a minimalist. It's fine to display a few appropriate personal items in your workspace. Don't, however, go overboard. Covering your desk with a bunch of knickknacks can end up giving off an impression that you are disorganized and not focused on your work.
  3. Don't be distasteful. While you are the one who sees the things on your desk most often, not everything is for your eyes only. Anything that can be construed as controversial, such as political posters or risque photos, should be left at home.

The study was based on surveys of 300 senior managers at companies in the U.S. with 20 or more employees.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.