By Jeff Waddle

Workplace Space: Desk Do's and Don'ts

In today’s world of Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and YouTube, it’s obvious that we love to tell our story. Indeed, we celebrate the individual in each of us, but have you considered what story your desk, office or cube is telling?

With many companies making hard decisions about who stays or goes in this age of downsizing and layoffs, is your desk sending clues that could spell doom or promotion in your career?

Let’s take a look.

The Tidy vs. Messy Debate

The psychologists, sociologists and other analytically inclined people who study these things have varied schools of thought on exactly what a tidy vs. messy desk conveys. Here are the prevailing views.


Someone who is organized, efficient and professional.  But if the desk or office is too squeaky clean, it may convey that you have too much time on your hands (i.e., not enough to do), which could send a dangerous message in times of layoffs. In offices where creativity is important, a clutter-free space could suggest that you’re too rigid, inflexible and uncreative.


A busy and creative person who values peak performance over completely clean. But if your office looks like a cyclone hit it and you’ve never spent a minute cleaning it up, you could be conveying that you’re totally disorganized, harried and on the verge of complete chaos -- not exactly a recipe for climbing the corporate ladder.

Bottom line, it doesn’t really matter what the so-called experts say, because it’s your specific company’s corporate culture that makes all the difference. Is creativity and performance valued above everything else? If so, then focus on the job, and don’t get too hung up on a pile of folders on the corner of your desk.

What does the boss’ office look like?

If it’s squeaky clean, then you may want to clean up your disaster zone (a.k.a. office). While you don’t have to be a complete conformist, fitting in, at least to some degree, is important in any job setting. Just like wearing flip-flops and shorts when everyone else is donning a suit and tie, it’s probably not a good idea for your desk or office to stick out like a proverbial sore thumb.

In most corporate settings, a happy medium is probably the best approach. As with inviting a girl back to your place, you don’t want it to look like a mausoleum. Rather, you want it to look inviting and “lived in” (or worked in) but not so messy that it will make a visitor uncomfortable. 

Personalizing Your Space

Since you spend so much time at work, there’s nothing wrong with personalizing your work space. In fact, studies suggest that putting personal touches on a work space boosts morale, so bring family photos, a plant or two and maybe some favorite sports memorabilia into the office. These things suggest that you enjoy a well-balanced life and are in for the long haul at work. Just do it tastefully.

Again, it’s the corporate culture that will determine what’s appropriate. Work in a conservative office? Then you may want to think twice about tacking your Black Sabbath poster to your bulletin board. Remember that everything on your desk or in your office says something about you, and your colleagues and bosses are taking note. Now: Go wash out the coffee cup sitting on your desk that’s starting to look like a science experiment.

Jeff Waddle is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer and contributor to

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