This is what people are really thinking when you have a messy desk

Many people believe you can tell a whole lot about a person based on whether or not they make their bed each morning[1]. Regardless of how your sheets rest while you’re on the job, a fascinating study conducted at the University of Michigan has some advice for everyone with a particularly messy office, desk, or workspace. Clean up, it just might make all the difference when it comes to others’ perceptions of you.[2]

A dirty workspace suits some people just fine. In fact, certain employees feel at home surrounded by clutter. The problem with a messy desk is the message it sends out to the other people working in an office. Researchers say that when coworkers see a jumbled workspace, they’re quick to assume its owner is neurotic, confrontational, and probably just not a nice person to be around.[3]

Three experiments were conducted for the study, involving 160 participants. In the first experimental setting, study subjects were randomly assigned to sit in an office that was either very clean and tidy or another that was somewhat messy. For the second and third experiments, participants sat in either a clean office or a very messy office.

All of the possible offices were decorated exactly the same and arranged in a way that suggested its owner was male. A few “personal” items were placed in the experimental workspaces, such as a baseball cap, candy being held in a cup, a framed photo of a baby, and a few scientific or academic books on a shelf. 

Everything within the clean office was in its proper place; papers were carefully stacked on the desk, all trash was in a wastebasket, and file cabinets even featured typewritten labels. The somewhat messy office appeared reasonably disheveled, with some books tipped over on the shelves, a few pieces of paper on the floor, and a wall clock that showed an inaccurate time. The very messy office, however, was in a complete state of disarray; very dirty, covered in clutter, and overall disorganization.

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