What Does Your Workspace Tell Others about You?
Messy or Neat?
Walk through any office floor and you get a sense of the culture of a company right off the bat. Walk into a workspace and you can instantly learn quite a bit about a person. Ever wonder what your space tells others about you?
A report by the retailer OfficeMax gives us some interesting statistics and information about our desk personalities.
- 57% of American workers admit they judge their coworkers by how clean or dirty they keep their workspace
- 50% say they have been “appalled” by how messy coworkers’ offices are
- 90% believe clutter has a negative impact on their work
- 77% say clutter damages their productivity
Clearly, how you work and how you organize your workspace (or don’t) speaks volumes about the kind of employee, if not person, you are—even if it’s the wrong impression. Several studies actually show that messy people can be the most creative and productive, it just may take some convincing on your part.
Another study show millennials, workers between the ages of 18 and 34, are the most cluttered generation, followed by Gen Xers, then baby boomers. You would think with all of our technology that has replaced so many individual gadgets and manual processes (think paper and printed phone directories), millennials would be more organized than their ancestors. Maybe their clutter is just a sign of their genius?
How Invested Are You?
You may be surprised to know that whether your workspace is cluttered or bare doesn’t just convey whether you are a mess or a “neat freak.” It can also tell others just how invested you are in your job and the company as a whole.
A workspace with lots of personal pictures, awards and recognitions, and personal tchotchkes and items strewn about tells others you are in it to win it. You consider your workplace a second home and feel like a valued contributor.
A barren workplace, on the other hand, may at first make you appear that you are highly organized and possibly efficient, but it can also give off the impression that you have one foot out the door. It may communicate to others that you aren’t truly invested in the job or the company and only come to work each day because you haven’t found that dream job yet.
How you choose to decorate your office is not the only variable in how you are perceived. Even the way you set up your desk and chairs say something about you.
Sitters and Standers
If you have a desk job you can easily end up sitting 6-10 hours per day, staring into a computer screen. Some employees combat this fanny fatigue by using adjustable desks where they can stand as they work. Michael Dell, for one, is known to prefer standing, believing it is more conducive to productivity and health. An even newer fad are desks that include a treadmill where the person can walk slowly as they work. What exactly that communicates about a person is still up for debate.
“Standers,” I’ll call them, do emit a sense of leadership and authority, as opposed to the “sitter” who may only stand up a few times a day for short periods of time. If you’re a sitter, you may want to think about standing every now and again. According to multiple studies, people who sit for long periods of time are not only at a higher risk for heart disease and obesity, but also may appear lazy to passerbys.
An interesting note to all of this is that with the rise in sales of adjustable desks in the past few years, experts are beginning to chime in on potential health risks associated with too much standing. Data suggests the best posture is one that alternates between sitting and standing. Sitting more than 45 minutes seems to be the tipping point.
The Person behind The Curtain
Let’s go back to what’s in your office, besides you and your desk. Those pictures you may have hanging on your cubicle walls or perched on your desk—what do those tell others about you besides you are invested?
Are they all photos of you at work events? Are they of you and your 10 cats? What about pictures of you doing charity work, with friends at your college football tailgate party, New Year’s Eve in Times Square? A family picture with your 2.4 children? These pictures begin to humanize your professional image, offer up a little glimpse into your balanced life, your history, some interests and hobbies. All of these images give coworkers a reason to engage with each other, to find commonalities, to like each other.
This humanization is critical to an organization’s culture. In the book Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World, the author offers this profound statement, “In the human resource management field, you start to see the dysfunction just by looking at two staples of HR: the hiring process and organizational structures.”
While one or a few people may feel like they know a new hire based on their resumes and interviews, rarely do the rest of the employees get to know that person on a personal level unless they work directly with them. Similarly, depending on an organization’s structure, many people in a larger organization may never cross paths. Even though skills could be shared across teams and departments, the structure of the company may prevent such collaboration. Instead of fostering a culture of teamwork, companies operate as hierarchies and job titles.
Telling A Story
Organizations can help its employees forge relationships, instead of snap-judgements based on workspace appearances, improve job satisfaction and retention. Happier employees will likely desire to contribute more and better work for the good of the company. The new hire can feel good about where they work on day one, believing they joined a cohesive team instead of an impersonal company. Even something as simple as an interactive employee directory can go a long way in connecting employees.
The employees who have filled their workspace with personal items and mementos are attempting to do the same thing, even if they don’t know it. Through their photos and personal items, they are telling their story, one that goes well beyond whether they are messy or neat.
They can share different aspects of their life because they want others to know the real person behind the title and job function. They are expressing themselves in the hopes that maybe they’ll find some common ground with someone else. While it might not be a conscious decision, these employees are desiring engagement with peers. Those pictures aren’t there just to remind them they have a child in the second grade. They are there to spark a conversation with someone who may bother to ask.